11 Installation view of the exhibition

At 3:30 pm on April 2, 2015, the press conference of “The Chinese Photobook,” jointly organized by the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art and Aperture was held at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, it is an exhibition in six chapters offering viewers a glimpse into the complex history of modern China through this telling yet often overlooked medium.

Martin Parr is one of the curators of the exhibition, for he was not able to present at the exhibition, it firstly aired the video specially produced by Martin for the show, Martin Parr shows special reference to propaganda, and the exhibition showcases part of his collections of photobook he collected in China, especially those on propaganda.

Then, Lucy Watkins, Minister and Counsellor of the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy, Lesli Martin, from Aperture respectively gave a speech on stage. Lucy Watkins said 2015 was a very important year for China and UK, UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange program promoted the constant communication between China and the UK in culture and creativity, and it was also the first official cultural exchange year. UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange program was not only a cultural exhibition, featuring some British arts in China, but more importantly it offered an opportunity for both sides to build a strong partnership for a long time, to commonly create a long-term, strong and creative UK-China partnership. Subsequently, Lesli Martin spoke, and she specially mentioned that, echoed the exhibition part of photobooks were on show at Aperture Gallery in New York, after that it would be moved to London exhibiting at a gallery, so it was an exhibition event involved three continents.

Finally it was the part of dialogue between Philip Tinari and one of the curators WassinkLundgren in addition to the communication section between the audience and the curators.

“We are honored to present this exhibition which so elegantly and thoroughly traces not only the evolution of this medium, but the history of a nation,” said UCCA Director Philip Tinari, “and pleased to collaborate with Aperture Foundation and Rencontres d’Arles to close the loop by bringing this show, which debuted in Arles and continued to New York, ‘home’ to China.” After the press conference Ruben Lundgren guided the media to visit the exhibition.

Unveiled to the public April 3 and running through May 31, 2015, the exhibition is co-produced by Aperture Foundation and Recontres d’Arles with the generous support of the China Art Foundation. Additional support is provided in part by Sondra Gilman Gonzalez-Falla and Celso Gonzalez-Falla, Marina and Andrew E. Lewin, and David Solo. “The Chinese Photobook” at UCCA is part of the 2015 UK-China Year of Cultural Exchange program, and is supported by the Cultural and Education Section of the British Embassy and IELTS.

The exhibition premiered at The Recontres d’Arles 2014 and appeared at Aperture Gallery, New York, during February 2015. The show will travel to the Photographers’ Gallery, London, and several venues across China. Texts for the “The Chinese Photobook” are provided by Gu Zheng, Raymond Lum, Stephanie H. Tung, Ruben Lundgren, and Gerry Badger. The show is curated by Martin Parr and WassinkLundgren, with support from UCCA Assistant Curator Felicia Chen.

A History in Six Chapters

The exhibition begins with a section devoted to early endeavors in graphic printing, entitled “From Empire to the People’s Republic of China (1900–1949).” An invention imported from the West and popularized by the likes of Jules Itier, Felice Beato, and John Thomson, the camera was quickly adopted by the state for its capacity to inform a largely illiterate population with objective clarity. Books from this section contrast with the second section, “Manchuria and the Sino-Japanese War (1931–1947),” a collection of documents mainly produced by the Japanese in an attempt to justify their occupation of northeast China. Chinese examples protesting the occupation are also present.

The exhibition continues with “The Image of a New China (1945–1966),” demonstrating the key role photobooks played in the construction of national identity under Mao Zedong. With clean compositions and optimally lit subjects, the photographs unmistakably take cues from “Talks at the Yenan Forum of Literature and Art” (1942). These trends are compounded by increasingly strict rules on publishing as explained in “State Publishing: The Cultural Revolution and Beyond (1966–Present).” China’s state propaganda becomes increasingly efficient and sophisticated, but after Deng Xiaoping’s ascension to power, publishing restrictions are liberalized once again, resulting in a new era for printed materials that also include foreign language editions.

A surge of unofficial publications follows as seen in “The Renaissance of Chinese Photography (1979–Present),” with individuals reclaiming the medium for personal use. This chapter shows the excitement and diversity of recent Chinese photobook publishing, which has become an integral component in the documentation of conceptual and performance art. With collectors’ decidedly early investment in the nascent scene, Chinese contemporary art has been rapidly absorbed into the international arena. In spite of the, at times, chilly relationship with the outside world, China has continuously produced a wealth of inspiration for foreign visitors. The final section “Global Perspectives on China (1949–Present)” presents yet another facet to the story of China’s meteoric rise in the late twentieth and early twenty-first century, with attention paid to the documentarians seeking extraordinary tales of industrial prowess and urban rejuvenation.

About Martin Parr

A key figure in the world of photography, Martin Parr is recognized as a brilliant satirist of contemporary life. In addition to his work as a photographer and curator, he is a renowned collector of photographic books, and the co-author with Gerry Badger of The Photobook: A History, volumes I, II, and III. He is a contributor, curator, and advisor to several other projects about the photobook, including “The Latin American Photobook.” His own photographs have been featured in over twenty-five photobooks, and are in the collections of museums worldwide, including the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Metropolitan Museum of Art, Tokyo; and Tate Modern, London. Parr is the current president of Magnum Photos International.

About WassinkLundgren

WassinkLundgren is a collaboration between Dutch artists Thijs groot Wassink and Ruben Lundgren. Their work together includes book projects, exhibitions, and photography commissions. They met while studying at the Utrecht School of the Arts in the Netherlands and have worked together since 2005. They have produced over a dozen books, including WassinkLundgren is Still Searching (2006); Empty Bottles (2007); Tokyo Tokyo (2011); and Hits (2013), a catalogue published on the occasion of their solo show at FOAM, Amsterdam. They have received several awards, including the Prix du Livre at Rencontres d’Arles (2007) for best contemporary photobook; the China Academy Award (2010); and the award for best independent photo exhibition at the Lishui photo festival (2014). Thijs groot Wassink is based in London and Ruben Lundgren is based in Beijing. Their work is represented by Pékin Fine Arts, Beijing.

About Aperture

Created in 1952 by photographers and writers as “common ground for the advancement of photography,” Aperture today is a multi-platform publisher and center for the photo community. Based in New York, Aperture produces, publishes, and presents a program of photography projects, locally and internationally.

Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO, courtesy of UCCA, for further information please visit http://ucca.org.cn.

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