The past few years have seen several private and public endeavours that have re-assembled photographic archives of China. Of particular interest is Sheila Zhao’s “China Lost and Found” project that focuses on vernacular photographs, in other words mundane and utilitarian photographs taken by common people.
Zhao is a Shanghai-based photographer who has been trying to make sense of the innumerable disposed-of candid prints she has been unearthing in flea markets. In order to do so, she has created an Instagram account, which has already gathered hundred of nicely digitized photographs. Her reconstructed archive encompasses snapshots covering almost the entire twentieth century. In her series “The East Was Red” she has been examining records taken between 1966 and 1976. This period corresponded to the Cultural Revolution: a period of political upheaval launched by Mao Zedong to encourage a return to revolutionary attitudes.
She explains: “As my collection grew, I noticed the trend in most photos from the Cultural Revolution era of its subjects directly placing some form of political messaging into the picture (whether it's a Mao pin, statue, or poster). It was so popular that it quickly drew my fascination. I began to think more and more about the power of political messaging and how much it influenced the collective visual memory of the time. I thought about how I can explore this and re-interpret it in a visual way. Red was the color I settled on as it was used as the primary color for the Communist party for itself, as well as a symbol of revolution. Where red was used, the viewer can see how much of a picture's information is missing from a picture, and in the same time acts as its own form of censorship. It was also convenient that one of the most popular songs as the time was ‘The East Is Red’, hence the influence for the title.”
More information: Sheila Zhao’s website