10 Chinese photographers you must know

Sun Yanchu, "Eye of the Leopard". De la série de "Ficciones", 2014. Avec l'autorisation de l’artiste.

In the past two decades, China has been going through unprecedented economic growth as well as a series of profound social changes. Meanwhile, the art of photography has been booming. These circumstances, alongside different aspects of urban life, has become the core of Chinese photographers ’ attention. At the same time, other forms of fine art, painting, installation, and video, offer photographers new possibilities for experimentation and expression.

In this post, Doors profiles 10 contemporary Chinese photographers you need to know, all nominees for the 2017 Jimei x Arles International Photography Festival‘s Discovery Award, selected by curators He Yining, Liu Tian, Nie Xiaoyi, Thomas Sauvin and Tang Zehui.

Aged 25 to 45, living in China or abroad, playing with various photographic techniques, they offer a glimpse into different social arenas in this ever-changing country: women in marriage, ethnic minorities, pollution and environment issues, the absurdity of modern life, new technologies…

Deng Yun
Deng Yun, “Nose”.

“We live in such an irrational world, and somehow it is reasonable. Perhaps, my photography, should be about things that just happen”

After quitting university, Deng Yun began taking photos and writing. His artworks, often posted on WeChat and public blogs, focus on perceiving daily micro-scenes with sensuality. His creative method is relatively free and packed with emotion. He is most happy when exploring delicate connections between different forms of art, including photography, poetry and music.

Feng Li
Feng Li, from the series “White night”, 2005-on going. Courtesy of the artist.

“My photos are comparatively independent, and each one has its own story.”

Feng Li

Feng Li, a graduate of Chinese medicine, practices photography both as a civil servant for the provincial Department of Communication and as an independent artist. He constantly gravitates between official imagery and his personal work.

Feng Li’s photos are like a series of fortuitous encounters with an unlikely cast of reality mostly met in the streets of Chengdu. Since 2005, he constantly nourishes a single and unique series, using a few formal constraints (vertical format, use of flashlight): White Night. In 2017, he won the Jimei x Arles Discovery Award during the third year of this festival.

Read our interview with Feng Li

Guo Yingguang
Guo Yingguang, “Untitled”, from the series “The Bliss of Conformity”, 2016
Guo Yingguang, “Untitled”. From the series “The Bliss of Conformity”, 2016.

“The Bliss of Conformity’ examines complex relationships, focusing on arranged marriages throughout China. “

Born in 1983 in China and trained in the UK (London College of Communication University of the Arts), Guo Yingguang began her photographic career with Reuters, China Daily, and other media groups.

Her artistic work revolves around social problems in contemporary China: « leftover women » (an expression for women who are single after 30), arranged marriages, and pseudo-intimacy between husbands and wives who are the victims of such marriages. Her combination of photography and printmaking aims for melancholia, delicacy, and abstraction.

In 2017, Guo Yingguang was awarded the Jimei x Arles-Madame Figaro Women Photographers award, the first ever award dedicated to women photographers in China.

Guo Yingguang’s website

Read our interview with Guo Yingguang

Jiang Yuxin
Jiang Yuxin, from the series “Five Events and Some Observations of Identity”, 2015-2017. Courtesy of the artist.

“When a culture is more powerful or seen as superior, how does an individual from another culture deals with the discomfort formed by subtle markers of cultural consciousness? “

Jiang Yuxin defines herself as an artist and writer, and co-founded along with other artists a non-profit festival called pic.london. Her work is a mix of photography, video, text, performance and installation.

Her practice deals with the politics in everyday life, ideology in linguistic and visual forms, often starting with a psychological approach. In her series Five Events and Some Observations on Identity (2015-2017), she questions her identity as a Chinese immigrant in London, and more broadly the issue of immigration.

By magnifying the micro in the vernacular, the work speaks out loud the unease possibly commonly shared and asks: how do we live with identities that we don’t necessarily identify with?

Jiang Yuxin’s website

Shao Wenhuan
Shao Wenhuan, “Green Bloom of Decay 12“, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Born in 1971 in Hotan (Xinjiang), Shao Wenhuan is a graduate from Ecole Nationale des Beaux-Arts de Dijon (France) and the China Academy of Art (Hangzhou), where he teaches today.

Shao Wenhuan creates works inspired by traditional Chinese painting. He blends photography and painting to create metaphysical artworks inspired by nature.

Shao Wenhua’s Instagram

Shao Wenhua’s artwork was shown at ICICLE Cultural Space in Paris for the “ROCKS!” exhibition

The Real
The Real, “Still”, from the series “Dance Theatre with Dama”, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.
The Real, “Still I”, from the series “Dance Theatre with Dama”, 2015. Courtesy of the artist.

“From “aunties’ dancing spaces” to “children’s dancing spaces”, I am interested in ordinary people’s bodies, and how they express themselves theatrically in their own spaces.”

Born after 1990, the three members of this artist collective The Real(Wang Mengfan, Da Zhuang and He Shaotong) come from the live performance world. They live between Germany and China.

They create photo and video works derived from their stage work (dance and theatre). In the series Dance theatre of real people, they play with the idea of dance video, inspired by the collaboration between American dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham and photographer Elliot Caplan.

Siu Waihang
Siu Waihang, from the series “The Elusive”. Courtesy of the artist
Siu Waihang, from the series “The Elusive”. Courtesy of the artist

“Walking around the [military] barracks out of curiosity, everything inside seemed to be fleeting.”

Siu Wai Hang was born in 1986 in Hong Kong from a father who fled China in 1970s.

Hong Kong is his preferred subject, particularly its relation with China. Siu Wai Hang conceives outstanding photographic installations: portraits printed on collages made of paper receipts (Customers series), automatic flipboards showing images of military barracks near Hong Kong (The Elusive), polluted plant specimens photographed using a standardized typological photography methodology (The Roadsider), landscape photos of the illuminated Hong Kong skyline as seen from China (Inside Outland), stretched photographic films showing crowds (X).

His exhibition at Jimei x Arles was distinguished by the jury with a Special Mention award

Siu Wai Hang’s website

Sun Yanchu
Sun Yanchu, “Stars and sea”, from the series “Ficciones”, 2017.

“I found these photos in antique markets. […] The original photos may have recorded true events, but have the new photos, through my changes, become totally mine?”

A lonely experimenter, Sun Yanchu’s photos and videos melt together his personal life and his understanding of photography, painting and image.

His series Obsessed (2004-2011) and Colour (2006-2016) are concerned with loneliness and intimacy. In Ficciones, he uses photos gathered in flea markets and transforms them using a combination of gold foil, watercolor, acrylic, sometimes soy sauce, giving these images a new life.

Sun Yanchu’s Instagram

Yu Feifei
Yu Feifei, “Ripped lovers”. Courtesy of the artist.
Yu Feifei, “Lovers’ Eyes”, 2017. Courtesy of the artist.

“My art practice is based upon the psychological study and exploration of individuals’ cultural identities.”

Born in 1988 in Guangzhou, Yu Feifei studied at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA, Beijing) and at the Royal College of Art (London).

From the material world to the virtual world, her work redefines the boundaries between 3D works and 2D images, real space and virtual space, moving and still images.

Yu Feifei’s works have been exhibited in China and abroad (London, Dubai, Cairo) and collected by the Victoria & Albert Museum (London).

Yu Mo
Yu Mo, from the “Small town story” series, 2005-ongoing. Courtesy of the artist.

“The picture is the border of the town, the walls of the story. But no matter how strong a city’s walls, they will collapse, yet the story will be endless.”

Yu Mo practices calligraphy and photography daily, repeating the same gestures and accumulating images.

In his project The Story of A Small Town, he has been documenting for the past ten years the daily life of small Chinese towns and provinces where ethnic minorities live (Yunnan, Xinjiang, Fujian, Guizhou…). The « small town » series tells the story of China, a country whose rural population shall reach 600 million by 2050.

All the quotes in this article come from the Three Shadows Photography Art Center’s website page on Jimei x Arles 2017.

Related DoorZine Articles
Aged between 22 and 38, the ten nominees of the Jimei x Arles Discovery Award 2018 are a mirror on today's China, with their focus on topics including the couple, intimacy, gender identities, self-representation, collective memory, public and private urban space, media and social networks, mass production and consumption, globalized exchanges...
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