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“Here’s Looking at You!”A Generation of Chinese Photographic Portraits before Selfie

2017-04-07 14:35:00  source: Shanghai Center of Photography (SCôP) [Cooperative]  author:   editor: 斫子 Su Yuezhuo
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Exhibition Opening: April 22nd, 2017

Exhibition Dates: April 23rd - June 25th, 2017

Time: Tuesday-Sunday, 10:30-17:30 (last entry 17:00)

Venue: Shanghai Center of Photography (SCôP)

Address: 2555-1 Longteng Avenue, Shanghai, China (near Fenggu Road)

How did we look at ourselves in front of the camera lens before the selfie became a spontaneous practice? “Here’s Looking at You!” explores the subject of the self in photographs, through three distinctive bodies of work. Through these, the exhibition looks at the diverse ways in which we find ourselves in photographs. From three very different perspectives, it asks how the ways in which we see ourselves have (or haven’t) changed from the 1980s to today.

“Here’s Looking at You!” brings together the diverse visions of Thomas Sauvin, Daniel Traub and Liu Tao: three photographers from different backgrounds, with different experience and interests. Thomas Sauvin is a French artist who, here, recycles discarded images from ordinary people’s daily life in China to map out an era; Daniel Traub is an American photographer and film-maker looking at the social ecology of a Chinese city, and how dramatic economic shifts in China’s production and trade have introduced an unexpected, vibrant element to a local community. Liu Tao is a young local photographer immersed in, and devoted to capturing, the life of his immediate neighborhood.

“Here is Looking at You!” begins with the enormous archive created by Thomas Sauvin, which he titles Beijing Silvermine. This began in 2009 and, over the next six years, saw its author, then based in Beijing, amass an image bank of over half a million negatives. “Discovered” by chance on the outskirts of Beijing, Sauvin embarked upon an intensive salvage operation, exhaustively sorting, cleaning, preserving the multitude of images. Capturing the daily life of Chinese people from the late 1980s through to 2000, Beijing Silvermine reflects the impact of economic reform, seen in the photographs as the blossoming of leisure time and rises in living standards.

Little North Road, the project presented by American photographer Daniel Traub, is the result of a collaboration with Guangzhou-based street photographers Zeng Xianfang and Wu Yongfu. It centers on their portraits of diverse African nationals, who began to arrive and settle in Guangzhou from the early 2000s. This continued to 2014 when trade between the nations began to slow. Seeking portraits to be sent home to their families in Africa, or kept as personal momentos, we see the settlers as individuals, couples, or friends striking a pose to have their photograph taken. Many are dressed in their Sunday best, a rich, colorful array of traditional costume fashioned from brightly-printed fabrics. The contrast is enhanced by the muted grey tone of the bridge upon which they pose – the Little North Road (Xiaobeilu) from which the project gets its title.

The third portion of this exhibition, a series titled Good Afternoon, Goodnight, comes from Hefei-based photographer Liu Tao. Since 2011, Liu Tao has observed people going about their daily life in his neighborhood; the community that lives within the radius of a few streets surrounding his home. His photographs are full of incidental moments that unfold in the life of the community, which has become as familiar to him as he is familiar to those he photographs. Every day he observes the people on the streets, capturing fleeting instances with humor and sensitivity those that, for most, are unobserved, as he himself is unobserved by his subjects. In contrast to the self-awareness that underscores the subjects pictured in Beijing Silvermine and Little North Road, Liu Tao’s photographs are the antithesis of the consciously constructed selfie.

Each of these bodies of work reveals something of the ways in which we like to look at ourselves, or at other people. It reminds us that, in the era of the selfie, taking photographic portrait is a complex act; at the very least, it reveals more of us than we think.

About the Photographers:

Thomas Sauvin (b.1983) is a French artist and photography collector previously based in Beijing, now resident in Paris. His Beijing Silvermine represents one of the largest archival undertakings in photography in China. Visually, it reconstructs the history of popular analogue photography in China.

Beijing Silvermine has been exhibited in art institutions, galleries, and various international photography festivals in China, Singapore, France, Switzerland, Belgium, Australia and the U.S.A.

Sauvin’s photo book Silvermine was selected as one of the "Greatest Photo Books of All Time" by Source Photographic Review, issue N°88; Until Death Do Us Part as one of the New York Times Best Photo Books in 2015.

Daniel Traub (b.1971) is a New York-based photographer and filmmaker, originally from Philadelphia. Since 1999, he has been engaged with long-term photographic projects in China, including Simplified Characters, a series of street pictures that explore the vast changes taking place in Chinese cities at the start of the 21st century. The series Peripheries looks at the landscape at the outskirts of several major Chinese cities.

Traub’s photographs have been exhibited internationally, including solo exhibitions at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago, Slought Foundation, Philadelphia, and China’s Lianzhou International Photo Festival. His work can be found in public and private collections including the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

His work has also appeared in publications including Aperture, European Photography a nd The New York Times Magazine. He has published two monographs with Kehrer Verlag: North Philadelphia (2014) and Little North Road (2015).

Wu Yongfu (b.1979) left his home in Jiangxi Province in search of opportunity to arrive in Guangzhou in 2003. After some years working in the aluminum industry, Wu began to make a living taking souvenir photographs for tourists in Zhongxin Square. From 2009 to 2011, he made portraits for the many Africans, among others, who passed by on Xiaobeilu (Little North Road).

Zeng Xianfang (b.1980) moved to Guangzhou in search of work in 2009 from Hunan Province. There he learned to take photographs and together with his wife began producing portraits on Xiaobeilu (Little North Road). He stopped in the summer of 2015, but together with his family, continues to live and work in the vicinity.

Liu Tao (b.1981) is a self-taught street photographer based in Hefei, An’hui province. Since 2011, from the afternoon to the evening, he has developed a routine for photographing his neighborhood; the same streets, the same people going about their daily lives. He does this with humor, sensitively and insight.

Liu Tao’s works have been shortlisted for the Sixth Three Shadows Photography Awards; he was a finalist for the XITEK 2014 New Talent Award. His works have been seen on a range of media and publications internationally, such as Time, BBC China, South China Morning Post, CCTV, etc. His photography has been exhibited in Germany, Echigo-Tsumari Art Field, Japan. His monograph Wandering Here and There was published by Lens Culture.

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