The Photographers’ Gallery in collaboration with Aperture Foundation present The Chinese Photobook. Curated by Martin Parr and artist collective WassinkLundgren, this marks the first UK showing of the exhibition following its critically acclaimed presentation at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2014.
The Chinese Photobook reveals the richness and diversity of China’s largely unexplored history of photobook publishing. Spanning a period between 1900 t0 2014, the exhibition includes key titles by established and emerging Chinese artists, books published by early colonial powers in China, including France, England, and Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese War, as well as a selection of books produced during the Cultural Revolution, among many others. Many of the publications on display are unknown or rarely seen outside of China and offer a unique insight into the country’s complex cultural history from the twentieth century onwards.
Reflecting an extraordinary breath of research and study by a team of scholars and historians, including Gu Zheng, Stephanie H. Tung, Raymond Lum, and Gerry Badger, the books are loosely grouped under six key historical sections:
From Empire to the People’s Republic of China (1900 - 1949) looks at the development of the photobook as both a personal venture through artist prints and albums, as well as its commercial and practical uses such as recording of public events and the mass communication of political messages. These publications reflect a contradictory image of China during this transitional time; simultaneously depicting an exotic people, a contested territory and an evolving nation.
Manchuria and the Sino-Japanese War (1931 - 1947) focuses on Japanese and Chinese photobooks printed in the lead up to and during the Second Sino- Japanese War. Japanese titles were shot and edited primarily by a sophisticated and experienced group of photographers and publishers. These books promoted the war effort by defending the Japanese invasion nationally and abroad and rallying the Japanese military. China’s photobooks, despite their lesser quality, still served as an expression of resistance by the invaded against the invaders.
The Image of a New China (1945 - 1966) presents Mao-era photobooks published following Japan’s surrender in 1945 and the founding of the Central Government of the People’s Republic of China under the leadership of the Communist Party. Used as mass propaganda material, the books aimed to increase political awareness, encourage acceptance of the new government’s ideology and motivate participation in nation-building efforts. Private publishing ceased and all books were distributed through official state enterprises which followed strict content and style guidelines.
State Publishing: The Cultural Revolution and Beyond (1966 - present) examines the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution which was launched in 1966 and set out to modernize China by ridding it of old ideas and customs and substituting them for Communist ones. Photography and the printed page were instrumental in rallying people to the cause of the state and cement Mao’s status as both the creator and saviour of modern China. Following Mao’s death in 1976 new economic and social policies implemented by his successor Deng Xiaoping opened the country to foreign trade and the blossoming of individual opinions in the public sphere.
The Renaissance of Chinese Photography (1979 - present) explores the effects of Xiaoping’s policies and the surge of ‘unofficial’ publishing and selfpublications which flourished in their wake. Discussions and debates around photography’s core issues, such as the medium’s ability to communicate reality, became prevalent and photobooks became an important distribution tool for work made by newly founded artistic communities.
Global Perspectives on China (1949 - present) looks at the two main periods of post-war photography of China by foreigners including Western photographers and Chinese citizens who grew up outside the country. Prior to the Cultural Revolution the general tendency was to create a positive view of China in line with government policy at the time. Following the Revolution, attitudes of foreign documentary photographers reflected the criticism which China’s ideologies and its accelerated industrialisation now attracted.