“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times”, Charles Dickens wrote in his famous novel A Tale of Two Cities. What our times actually look like is, for most of us, a rather fuzzy picture. We see fragments every day in all that we do; watching TV, surfing the internet and social media, and as we go about our daily lives. But how much do we really observe with our own eyes? “Social Geography: Ten Journeys with a Camera” presents ten different visions of these time, as experienced by and as observed through the lens of 10 Chinese photographers. Each used their feet to travel thousands of miles as they explored their times, be that as geography, as social anthropology, as moments in history, and as a series of personal stories.
“Social Geography: Ten Journeys with a Camera” presents a group of Chinese photographers who can all be described as seeking out their own individual perspective on life. Their work is suffused with a sense of historical and social awareness, a feeling for individual experience, often as part of a community, and for the extraordinary degree of change which, whilst so pronounced in the cities, like Shanghai, is still unfolding across this vast land. The photographs are widely variant in mood. We find pathos alongside humor, in scenes that are never constructed but captured using straightforward means. As such, they capture the diversity of experiences that met each photographer in the particular road they travelled. The broad, empathetic understanding these bodies of works impart reveals a deeply humanistic awareness of what is close to us, as well as that far away.
“Social Geography: Ten Journeys with a Camera” is the result of a broad research of photographers at work in China today. It builds on the success of previous exhibitions organized and produced by Shanghai Center of Photography such as “Grain to Pixel” 2015; “Nature: A Subjective Place” 2016; and “Here’s Looking at You”, 2017.
“Social Geography: Ten Journeys with a Camera” is the first of a series of exhibitions that looks at daily life in the mainland. The next, entitled “All Down to Me”, will be presented in the latter part of 2019.
About the photographers
Chen Ronghui(b.1989) is a young Chinese photographer and storyteller based in Shanghai. Through a series of long-term projects, focused on China’s urbanization, Chen explores the relationship between the nation’s urbanization and the individual’s experience. He has already published a first collection of works on social themes, under his own name. He has also received awards for his projects, including a World Press Photo prize, the Three Shadows Photography Award’s special Alpa prize, and the Hou Dengke Documentary Photography Award. Outside of his own professional practice, Chen heads the visual department in Sixth Tone, a Shanghai-based, English-language digital publication.
Gan Yingying was born in Guangxi, China, 1990. After completing a Masters degree in photography at the University for the Creative Arts, Rochester, UK, she moved to Shanghai, where she work as an independent photographer,writerand curator. Gan Yingying is interested inthe relationship between identity and individual surroundings. Her works have been exhibited in exhibitions in China in Xi’an, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Xiamen, and in the UK in London, Rochester and Medway.
LI Lang was born in 1969 in Sichuan province. He graduated in 1990 from Shanxi University of Finance & Economics, having majored in economics. In 1992, he borrowed a 6×6 120 film format folding camera to visit Kunming with friends. This marked his first encounter with photography and with people who would become the subject of his photographic pursuit. His work Yi People at Mount Liangshan received the Mother Jones Medal of Excellence in 1999. In 2014, his work Father comprised an intense document of his father’s last years, displaying a reverence akin to spiritual devotion.
LUO Dan was born in 1968 in Chongqing. His career began with studies at Sichuan Institute of Fine Art, graduating in 1992. From 1997, he worked as a photojournalist through to 2005, when he decided to focus on his own projects. Most of these projects have been journeys which have taken him across China. First in 2006, along Route 318, then in 2008, from north to south. In 2010, for Simple Song, he travelled deep into remote mountain areas of the Nu River in Yunnan. He lives and works in Sichuan province.
Muge was born in 1979 in Chongqing. He graduated from Sichuan Normal University in 2004. His works are widely exhibited. Both Going Home (2009) and Silent Films (2009) are series of black and white photographs of the Three Gorges and places along the Yangtze River. In facing a place he called “home” and yet which was constantly under change due to the construction of the Three Gorges Dam, he conveys emotions about home and his reactions about the special concept of a constantly changing place. He now works as a professional photographer under Muge Studio in Sichuan province.
SHI Yangkun graduated from University of the Arts London with an MA in Photojournalism and Documentary Photography in December 2016. He currently works as a multimedia reporter at Sixth Tone, Shanghai. In 2017, he won the PDN (Photo District News, on-line magazine based out of New York) Emerging Photographer competition. He was also awarded in the PDNedu Student Photo Contest in the category of Fine Art. In 2016, he won first prize in the Urban PhotoFest Open, London. His works have been exhibited in the UK and the US. He has been featured in the South China Morning Post(“Photographer misses his home – especially when he’s there”, Nectar Gan, November 14, 2018), and in Timemagazine (“Nine Chinese Photographers You Need to Follow”, Ye Ming, April 17, 2017), among other publications.
WANG Yingying holds a Bachelor of Arts. She works as an independent photographer and documentary film director. She works with Fujifilm X-Photographers. In 2017, she presented work at the Center for Fine Art Photography, Denver. In 2018, she was nominated for an Abigail Cohen Magnum Documentary Scholarship. She has participated in photography exhibitions in China and abroad. Her projects focus on issues of life and self-identity. Among them, Forty: 1976and Where my Heart Settles Downhave received attention from domestic mainstream media. The album Forty: 1976was published in 2018 by Zheng Youyou Studio under Zhejiang Photographic Publishing House.
ZHANG Kechun was born in 1980 in Sichuan province. His work has been widely recognized, from the 2008 National Geographic Photography Award, to nominations for the 2012 Three Shadows Photography Award, the Sony Photography Award in 2012 and 2013, the 2014 HSBC Bank Photography Award, and the 2014 Lianzhou International Photography Festival Annual Jury Special Award. In 2014, he received the US Daylight Photography Award, the Arles Photography Festival Discovery Award, and in 2015 the Talents Contemporains Contemporary Art Award. His works have been exhibited in more than 20 countries and published in media such as Time magazine, BBC News, the Telegraph Magazine, UK, and China Photography, Beijing. His works can be found in numerous museum and institutional collections. He is currently based in Chengdu.
ZHANG Xiao lives and works in Chengdu, Sichuan. Born in 1981 in Yantai city, Shandong province, China, Zhang Xiao graduated from the Department of Architecture and Design at Yantai University in 2005 after which he worked as a photojournalist for the Chongqing Morning Post. In 2009, Zhang received the second Hou Dengke Documentary Photography Award, and in 2010, for his They series, the Three Shadows Photography Award. This was followed by the Photography Talent Award in France, 2010, and for Coastline, the HSBC Photography Prize in 2011. Zhang Xiao lives and works in Chengdu, Sichuan.
ZHUANG Hui was born in 1963 in Gansu province. In his career, he has produced a number of works based on photography. As example, between 1995-6, the series One and Thirty explored the stock categories of common people in a socialist society, such as workers, peasants, soldiers and students. Zhuang Hui’s presence in each photograph serves as a contrast to the adjacent figure, and highlights the speed of change in urban versus rural areas. When he’s not traveling, Zhuang Hui lives and works in Beijing.
About the exhibition
Social Geography: Ten Journeys with a Camera
—Ten Photographers Who Set Out to See Their World
Curator: Karen Smith
Venue: Shanghai Center of Photography
Courtesy of the artists and Shanghai Center of Photography, for further information please visit www.scop.org.cn.