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.
The wide array of social and political issues that have sprung up during this transitional period have brought about a newfound interest in questioning individual cultural identities. This, 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. 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 (born 1983) has lived in Japan since 2003. After quitting university, he began taking photos and writing. His works, 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, and he is most happy when exploring delicate connections between different forms of art, including photography, poetry and music.
Born 1971 in Chengdu (Sichuan), 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. The photos of Feng Li are like a series of fortuitous encounters with an unlikely cast of reality mostly met in the streets of Chengdu. Since 2005, Feng Li 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.
Born 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.
Born 1987 in Shanghai, Jiang Yuxin currently lives in London, where she studied photography at Westminster University. She 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 concerns 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.
Born 1971 in Hotan (Xinjiang), 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, using gelatin as a photographic medium. His work has been showed in China and abroad: Mingyuan Museum (Shanghai), Folkwang Museum (Essen, Allemagne), Hangzhou Fine Arts Academy Museum (Hangzhou), Beijing Photography Biennial, First Biennial of Contemporary Art in Italy, Wuhan Art Museum, Lucerne Art Museum (Switzerland)… His photos are part by several public and private collections, including Uli Sigg’s famous Chinese art collection.
Siu Wai Hang
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. A graduate of City University of Hong Kong’s creative media department, 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
Born in 1978 in Zhoukou (Henan province), Sun Yanchu lives and works in Zhengzhou. A lonely experimenter, his 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. Among his latest exhibitions: The Egotist in the darkroom (solo show at Hong Kong Art Basel 2016), Chinese Photography: Twentieth Century and beyond (collective show at Three Shadows Photography Art Centre in Beijing, 2015). Obsessed (2011) and Ficciones (2016) were published as books by Jiazazhi Press. Sun Yanchu was awarded the Gucang Dummy Award Martin Parr Edition (2015) in Lianzhou, the New Photography Award at Lianzhou International Photography Festival (2011) and distinguished with a Special award mention by the MOI Prize in Osaka (2010).
Born after 1990, the three members of this artist collective (Wang Mengfan, Da Zhuang and He Shaotong) the real 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.
Born 1988 in Guangzhou, Yu Feifei studied at the China Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA, Beijing) and at the Royal College of Art (London). She currently lives in Beijing. Influenced by anthropology, she studies social and cultural norms. Influencée par l’anthropologie, elle étudie les normes sociales et culturelles. 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).
Born in 1975 in Beijing, Yu Mo graduated from Hangzhou’s China Academy of Art’s Sculpture Department in 2001. He currently lives in Hangzhou where he teaches at the same school. 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 » that he tells the story of is China, a country whose rural population shall reach 600 million by 2050.
Note: Artists are ranked in alphabetical order. They are the 10 nominees for the Discovery Award of the Jimei x Arles International Photo Festival, created in 2015. Every year, ten talents are nominated by five curators. At stake is an award of 200,000 RMB (25,000 Euros) and an exhibition at the prestigious Rencontres d’Arles the following year. In 2017, the nominees were selected by curators He Yining, Liu Tian, Nie Xiaoyi, Thomas Sauvin and Tang Zehui. More information: https://www.en.jimeiarles.com/jimei-arles-discovery-award-2017/