Since his childhood during the 80s Huang Yunhe 黄云鹤 was well versedin the art of photography for its parents owned a photo studioin Quanzhou (a town in the Fujian province). Then while he was studying graphic design at university, Huang Yunhe became more and more interested in photography. After graduation, he finally established his own photo design office at M50, Shanghai Moganshan road famous for its galleries and artists’ studios. This office became today’s OFOTO Gallery (officially launched in 2006), which supports more than fifty Chinese and international talented photographers. Always eager to promote the art of photography, the gallery also set up an online platform through which everyone can buy high quality artworks specially created for this occasion and at reasonable prices. Besides an additional space called ‘ANART’ was created in 2009 so that to introduce other forms of art apart from photography.
Huang Yunhe generously agreed to be interviewed and welcomed me to his gallery at Moganshan road the 22nd December 2011. It was at that moment the very beginning of Qiu Minye personal exhibition, another original photographer. Concretely, the OFOTO Gallery remains one of the rare institutions specialised in photography in Shanghai. Each of them plays a fundamental and unique role in the promotion of this art in China. Hence, Huang Yunhe director’s interview represented a good opportunity to know his own viewpoint about Chinese contemporary photography, as well as to discover new photographers and especially to learn more about the promising Luo Yongjin.
How do you select your photographers?
First of all we select our photographers becausewe think they are talented. Then, we want them to created photographs that have a direct relationship with their personal life so that these artworks appear more ‘authentic’, more ‘real’, and thus move easily people. Furthermore we wish our photographers to have their own creative features and particularities. Finally we cannot forget that we are a gallery, hence it is very important that our photographers agree to collaborate with us and to all the different aspects of doing business. This is how we select our artists in a nutshell.
What are the more recurrent topics in contemporary Chinese photography?
In my view there are two topics that appear quite often. The first concerns life, its environment,and society. Off course photographers use different approaches and focus on different things. For instance their creations may be explore reality, or may symbolize the artist’s thoughts on his environment, on the living conditions, and so forth.
The second explores individual concerns.For instance a photographer’s artwork may be related to something trivial or interesting in his life, or it may be an object that attracts his attention. They also can deal with personal reflections and imagination on various topics, such as philosophy, religion, and so on. So the most recurrent topics are these two: on the one hand they represent a big picture of society, on the other they reflect personal concerns.
There are many contemporary photographers who clearly refer to shanshui (Chineseword for traditional landscape paintings), calligraphy, and other elements abstracted from traditional art. In your opinion, what is the relation between Chinese pictorial tradition and contemporary photography?
Off course photography is a technique inventedin France at first. Then around the 1860s Chinese photographers started to learn this technique. At that moment we can say that they tried to create photographs that were imbued with traditional and pictorial aesthetics. To raise simple examples, photographers sometimes added Chinese characters, seals, and other common habitsin Chinese pictorial tradition. Lang Jingshan (1892-1995) for instance developed a particular technique using both the dark-room and Chinese painting aesthetic so that to create photographs. Even some contemporary photographers such as Hong Lei, Yang Yongliang, Yao Lu, and Lu Jun refer to Chinese traditional painting in order to created new type of artworks. They can use for instance traditional forms of composition (hanging scroll, circular or fan shaped). There is also Bai Yiluo who draws his inspiration from Chinese calligraphy.
What do you think about Luo Yongjin and especially about his photographic series entitled New Residence shot in Luoyang and Hangzhou cities?
This is my favourite photographer, and obviously if you want to know better an artist the discussion will perhaps grow longer. Actually before he created the series New Residence, he was similar to many Chinese photographers or to classical Western photographers inasmuch as he emphasised on the representation of man. He was in search of shooting interesting people and moment.
His series New Residence marked a watershed in his career; I think he started a new phase at that time. Indeed as I said he was before like many other photographers: in pursuit of significant people or moment. And despite each photographer used his own perception, the idea remained the same for all. At the end of the 1980s - beginning of the 1990s, China began its phase of development. It seems architecture represented the most direct and representative way to experience such changes in the environment. At that time Luo Yongjin was living in Luoyang and discovered these strange private houses; this sparked his fascination for architecture. After that he created many series connected to architecture, which are the series that people are the most familiar with; they became Luo Yongjin’s representative work.
New Residence series marked as well a conceptual change to the extent that he was not in the pursuitof a moment anymore but rather in the pursuit of a concept. His process of creating was then: first find an idea, a concept; second look for it in the outside world; third photograph it. And so he expected to be able to capture many houses so that to inform people how these kinds of environments looked like, to inform them how it was in reality. Once he finished photographing Luoyang’s new residences and their representative contemporary Northern style he also shot the local-style residences of Hangzhou’s vicinity, which is another type of architecture using a more Southern style. Through his series New Residence he managed to convey his own viewpoint, but he also shed light on society and cultural issues.
There are others series connected to architecture, namely Government Building, Gaz Sation, Night Watch, and especially Chinese Garden. The latestis a project started around 2000, in which he created large-scale photographs actually composed of a montage putting together many little ones. Generating a visual shock was his main goal. From a technical perspective, ten years ago technology was not as evolved as today, and creating a photograph which size is one meter by one meter was possible but literally impossible for a photograph measuring ten meters long. Therefore Luo Yongjin used this technique so that to make the viewer feel the spatial dimension of his artworks.
Simultaneously Luo Yongjin worked toward greater effects in his Chinese Garden series. Indeed he used a specific technique for each photograph that composes the big one: in the first one the focal point is there while the focal point is here in the second one; in the third photograph everything is blurred whilein the fourth everything is clear, and so forth.He changed techniques all the time. I think this series marked another phase in his career.
After he created Trip and Artists’ Belongings series - the latest is actually an exhibition we justheld few months ago – which are closely linked to artists’ studios. In the early stage so around eight years ago, Luo Yongjin had the idea to photograph various Chinese artists. At that time it was just the record of his research, now many of these artists became either famous or play an important rolein artistic circles. This was one of the reasons he created Artists’ Belongings, but this time people have disappeared. We can see that Luo Yingjin did not intend to mirror exactly how are these artists’ studios. Instead he concentrated on the everyday traces leftby the artists, regardless there are banal or intriguing. Since all these artists are his friends it was quite easy for him to achieve this project. I particularly like Trip project because I think it constitutes as well another evolution in his art. Luo Yongjin is fond of travelling and has visited numerous places across China. During his journey he would not only photograph architectures but also little things that ran over his eyes even just for one second. His camera allows him to capture both large sceneries and tiny details.
Another reason why I like his artworks is because there are serene. They do not force the viewer to engage in deep reflection, nor they make a comment on society or political issues. On the contrary, they convey Luo Yongjin’s personal feelings, his ardent love for life, and his sensitivity to light. By the same token, his artworks reveal how remarkably cultivated he is. In truth we can notice his allusion to shanshui (Chinese word for traditional landscape painting) and Eastern philosophyfor instance. Luo Yongjin’s artistic creativity is incontestably highly developed.
I have travelled sometimes with him. Which stroke me the most is when he shown me the pictures he took and I had the impression I did not go to the same place. Perhaps I have seen the same thing but he did not take the same picture as me at all. He can easily use his camera to express himself, which I think is the purpose of art: expressing one’s ideas and one’s feelings.
Luo Yongjin’s mastering of photography techniques also inspires my admiration. He uses different cameras and knows which one is the most suitablefor a specific subject matter. It is important to reacha certain level of technique so that to handle any situation, yet you still need to express your own ideas by using this very technique, and this is the most difficult part in my view. It entails a lot of practice and thinking.
Before, it was said in China that contemporaryart does not require technique; the only thingyou need is a concept or an idea. As long as your concept is strong, no matter how the artwork is produced. Nevertheless I think that true art is when you manage to express your concept through your technique. Even in Chinese language the word ‘art’ is composed of two characters that imply two different meanings: the first character yi (艺) means ‘technique’, ‘skill’, while the second one shu (术) means ‘idea’. I think both dimensions are fundamental.
Who is your favourite photographer right now?
I like many of them. For instance there is Christopher Taylor, an English photographer living in France with whom we collaborate.He is also a very interesting person; he first studied biochemistry, which is not really related to art in fact. He doe not care about other artists’ creations, he prefers to use his own method that proceeds from his life experiences. Like Luo Yongjin, Christopher Taylor is very calm and not very talkative. The general appearanceof his artworks is consequently serene.Besides, they give a sense of rationality, permanence, and authenticity. He can be in India, in China, whatever the place, he would always manage to abstract from this environment the picture he wanted. He can go out for a day without taking any photograph. And since he uses a large camera, he has no choice but to arrange everything and think carefully about everything, before takingthe photograph.
What are your expectations about the future?
I wish to promote the opening of a museum of photography. It has been five years that I have been working as a gallery owner and I think there is still a lot of work to do in China in order to promote the art of photography. The audience still needs to see more exhibitions, but a gallery alone cannot have a great impact, this is why a larger collaboration with other institutions would be better.
Through such promotion, we can expect the audience to become aware and to understand better what is the art of photography. It is true that everyone can take a photograph by using a camera or a mobile phone, but such practices have nothing in common with the art of photography. It is as if you compare writing an article, writing a poem with the simple ability to write a letter, it is not the same thing.
We still need an educational project that willmake the audience understand and like better photography. Hence we need more opportunities and more events, which I wish I will get involved in. I also wish I can help more young photographers and organize more exhibitions, even if this is a hard and long-time project.
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