The Chinese Photobook

British photographer, Martin Parr has curated a collection of photography, in a very collaborative-environment, with WassinkLundgren that aims to write a new story of the history of Chinese photography. Aided by publications, and weaving through high art and low bureaucracy seamlessly, in a larger-than-life panoply, the story starts all the way back to 150 years ago and china was like then, and end during the first few days of post-imperial China. 

Here, local photographers, such as Lang Jingshan, made many artistic drawings, that gave new life to scroll paintings – he was also a fan of portraiture of nude women, and pandas – an unlikely combo. This exhibition brings to you the works of foreigners, such as Henri Cartier-Bresson, the Japanese army’s capturing of Manchuria, a puppet state that remarkably, also worked as a happy colony. 

There is also propaganda materials from the PRC, featuring smiling factory workers, in the backdrop of an enormous Cultural Revolution and an endless pool of happy Maos, happy to do their job, even if it involved medical work.
Revisionist theories has helped us understand the resurgence of the photobook, and its culture, particularly in marginalized locales, such as South America and Africa. The exhibition has six parts: 

  • the early 1900s is about documenting political messages and keeping records of public events, and presenting opposite photojournalistic reports of the country
  • the period from 30s to late 40s, Manchuria and the Sino-Japanese War is explored, where the Japanese war efforts that were promoted, are projected; there were some causes for concern over the quality of the Chinese materials but I believe that is absolute hogwash – they are brilliant at what they have been crafted to do.
  • the next period is about the new China, where you meet Mao Zedong, post-Japan’s surrender during the Second World War, and the soon enough subsequent founding of the Central Government in the PRC. There are a lot of propaganda material, and books that attempted to persuade a greater acceptance of the new government, which was hard to avoid given that there was state-autonomy in all kinds of publication of materials.
  • The present era is about getting to know more about the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, where people were encouraged to accept Mao as the modern wing of country’s savior and creator, self-publishing ideas, and the world thoughts on China. The exhibition runs at The Photographers Gallery, right up until the 5th of July, 2015.
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