‘The Chinese Photobook’ At The Photographers’ Gallery
June 25, 2015
Opened in the early 1970’s The Photographer’s Gallery was the fist gallery opened in the UK devoted entirely to the art of photography. Located just off Oxford Circus, Central London The Photographer’s Gallery is a hidden gem amongst the shops of London’s West End. The gallery is well acclaimed for its contemporary and culturally poignant photography exhibitions – where it hosts and impressive all year round calendar of events and exhibitions and has shown some of the work of hugely successful British and international photographers’. ‘The Chinese Photobook’ currently on show is certainly no exception to the gallery’s continued success and is definitely well worth a visit.
This display is a chance to see photographs, which would perhaps be otherwise unseen. Photobooks are not uncommon ways of presenting and displaying photographic practices, but Chinese photobooks are unique in that there is a long history of Chinese photobooks and photographic collecting which have remained unseen in both the exhibition, and photobook worlds outside of China. This exhibition presents a series of Chinese Photobooks from the 1900’s up until the present day from both acclaimed and less well known Chinese photographer’s. Curated by Martin Parr and artist collective WassinkLundgren, this display presents an insight into the largely unexplored history of Chinese photography.
Many of the images and photobooks shown are largely unseen outside of China for various cultural / political reasons, for this reason ‘The Chinese Photobook’ is an exceedingly unique exhibition in which you can view the often un-exhibited work of Chinese photographers’, in an exhibition which challenges traditionally Western-centralised ways of exhibiting photography and art. The display is directed at celebrating and viewing the work of Chinese photographers; ‘The Chinese Photobook’ offers a refreshing viewing experience, in which you can learn about the cultural revolutions, which have shaped China’s complex history, in a photographic narrative that is both insightful and culturally significant. The uses of photography by numerous individuals is well represented in this display, where some may use it as a form of social commentary intentionally, other images are more politically dethatched but may show more than they intended in any case. In the words of the curators ‘Photography is never innocent, but is always used for a certain purpose’.
The curator’s stated an interest in the ‘printed page’, in particular, so sought to display photographs in book form as opposed to earlier ways of collecting I the form of photographic albums. These photobooks show an insight into the history of China, since the turn of the century. ‘The Chinese Photobook’ is extraordinarily curated and the curatorial team have evidently made careful decisions on how best to present these photographic books. The exhibition visitor is able to get inside these books in various ways, there are naturally framed pages of the publications, but also less conventional ways of display such as videos in which the books are flicked through from start to finish. There are also books enclosed in cases opened in sections which you can view at your own leisure – the display of these books, and mixed-media capabilities of viewing, create a unique aesthetic in the display overall which all adds to the overarching success of the exhibition. You can also listen to interviews with the curators and watch videos in the exhibition, and listen to their thoughts and creative decisions which lead to the displays and how the team began collecting Chinese Photobooks in the first place.
The accompanying book ‘ The Chinese Photobook from 1900s to the present’ edited by the curatorial team Martin Parr, and WassinkLundgren in conjunction with this exhibition, can be purchased from The Photographers’ Gallery, or viewed inside the exhibition itself. This small, one floor, yet, hugely important exhibition is packed full of examples to learn and view snippets of Chinese history and is certainly worth viewing.
The Chinese Photobook remains on display at The Photographers’ Gallery until 5th July 2015.
The nearest tube station is Oxford Circus, for further opening times or information please visit The Photographers’ Gallery website. The exhibition is free until July when the Gallery will introduce its new small £3 admission fee for visitors after 12noon.
* All Images are reproduced with the permission of The Photographers’ Gallery. Photo credit of top featured image: Interior selection fromGli impressioni di Manciu-cuo (Impressions of Manchukuo), documenting the visit of an Italian delegation sent courtesy Benito Mussolini. (Fengtian, China: Manchukuo Imperial Government, ca. 1938)