A fresh look into modern China

The Chinese Photobook: From the 1900s to the Present

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The Chinese photobook emerges from a rich and diverse history that has still been largely unexplored. Ranging from personal artist prints and albums to objects of mass propaganda, printed volumes of photography have been used for various means in the history of modern China. Following its critically acclaimed presentation at Les Rencontres d’Arles 2014, The Photographers’ Gallery in collaboration with Aperture Foundation presented The Chinese Photobook for the first time in the UK this spring.

The exhibition featured works from a period between 1900 and 2014. On display were titles and books from colonial-era in China, the second Sino-Japanese War, the Cultural Revolution, up to the contemporary age. Notable pieces include the social realist image of Beijing’s Great Hall of People, cast in a bright light that promises hope and progress, the move towards gender equality on the cover of China’s Women Workers, as well as stills from propaganda opera productions of the Cultural Revolution. Many of the publications on display have never been seen outside China, and the photographs provide fresh insight into the country’s modern history.

Accompanying the exhibition is a book of the same name, released earlier this May. The lavishly produced volume is based on a collection compiled by Martin Parr and Beijing- and London-based Dutch photographer team WassinkLundgren. The collection began as an interest that Parr had in propaganda books and socialist realist photography from the early days of the Communist Party and the Cultural Revolution era. It has since expanded to include key volumes published as early as 1900 and contemporary volumes by emerging Chinese photographers.

The Chinese Photobook reflects the renewed interest in the role of the photobook within the history of photography. Until now, only a limited number of Chinese photobooks have been spotlighted. The traveling exhibition and book have further showcased the richness and diversity of photobook publishing in modern Chinese history.
Seee Ruben Lundgren of WassinkLundgren talk about The Chinese Photobook

by Louise Lui

The Chinese Photobook is available here

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