November 6th, 2016
I gave a summary of the install and opening of the Pingyao International Photography Festival (PIP) a few weeks ago. Time has passed and it’s taken a while to be able to report on the running and conclusion, partly because of the need to clear my head of the crazy China experience which included a trip to Beijing with John Turner as host.
In Beijing I saw the follow-on from the initial interest in “Tom Hutchins – Seen in China 1956”. This included stronger interest in a new show that John is curating with Phoebe Li (“Recollection of A Distant Shore: A Photographic Introduction to the History of the Chinese in New Zealand”) which opened on 21 Oct at the Overseas Chinese History Museum of China. The Chinese Photographers Association filmed him talking about Tom Hutchins for a film documenting their 60-year history, as part of a teaching curriculum.
Some of this was the result of the high level of interest in “Tom Hutchins – Seen In China” at PIP. The installation pictures show that we were given a very prominent position with a huge poster image and text in English and Chinese facing the front door of Diesel Factory A2. We also found that we had a rich red wall which really made the black and white images ‘ping’ and even with the crowding of the 89 images the show looked stunning. This came courtesy of Zhang Guotian, the director of the festival who seemed to have taken a personal and professional interest in the show, emphasising the importance to Chinese at a number of levels.
On the first day, a communist party contingent came to view the show, and the entourage flew through so quickly that we missed documenting it. John and I spent some considerable time talking with the many visitors on the first two days and we saw a large audience from young to old, with the elderly often taking an especial interest. One of John’s hopes is that an adult visitor recognises themselves as a child in or near a picture that Tom took, and can recall the ‘lao wai’ – foreigner with the camera who came through in 1956 – this person would obviously be older than 60 now.
We also had a visit from Shangxi province TV reporters. The reporter seemed to have (mostly) done her homework and came prepared for a good length interview. She followed up with clarifying questions and produced a good segment that can be seen here:
The site has a transcript in Chinese but a translate app like Google Translate (unavailable if you are in China without a VPN) will give an approximate version.
One result of the level of interest in the show is that the NZ embassy has got behind the Chinese in NZ show and it is hoped that they may help with further stages of the Tom Hutchins project that John is working on. The history of the Chinese in NZ show is scheduled to open at the Auckland Museum in February 2017.
After the hard work and excitement of the first couple of days we managed to venture further afield to see some of the many other exhibitions.
Despite the variety and quality of the work on show, one of my personal concerns was that Pingyao is very much about traditional photography as opposed to ‘lens based art’ and because of this there seems to be a pinch on experimentation. A lot of the work that was trying to be challenging seemed to apply self imposed bounds. One work that showed promise was 4 framed ‘pictures’ that turned out to be video projections of torsos that were just perceptibly breathing but at a quick glance appeared to be straight photos.
Another, that sought to bring in political content and used multimedia, was ‘Since Then, No One Has Talked With You’ by He Bo. Based around recent terrorist bombings, the large full face portraits of attackers were built from small images of varying density, then overlayed with very tiny red faces of victims that built up a morse code message across the surface of the pictures. Small boxes on the wall, when opened, held typed messages.
There was perhaps too much layered meaning for me to work through (having to decode the morse was just a bit much) but I applaud the attempt to try and make personal meaning and public statement about political terror acts that impact many of us as individuals and as a society.
As well as a lot of commercially oriented work, there was some wonderful student work in the 7 huge buildings set aside for universities, and probing work in the Group Exhibition of Female Photographers. One in particular, by Chan Oi-Yan was inspiring to see. It looked at a Hong Kong wetlands area ‘beautified’ into a tourist hotspot. Her text started “Land use can hardly stop its pace due to the intense population…” Her pictures contrast the fog-covered beauty of the area with the disorganised look of a native wetland. “The nature faked a natural scene, humans? do it well too”.
The tall and striking character of Xu Hao held also a critical intellect that gave her images (in a series called ‘Home’) an ability to question consumerism and its power to manipulate human needs. The mundanity of Ikea store interiors, with a price tag on everything, was where she set up a camera and captured people treating the mock Ikea home displays as their own. Families lounging as if at home, in-store but looking out as if wondering whether something was lost “… where people seemed to forget their beating hearts”.
The photographs of Tu Chun, whilst superficially similar to Xu Hou because of the interiors in artificial light, were very different in intent. I sat with Chun for a long while enjoying his infectious smile in his own makeshift ‘home’ for the time of the festival, while he told me how he photographed immigrant families living in China. These interiors were real homes, styled by the owners themselves, the pictures considered and full of respect for the participants.
Peng Xiangjie showed some arresting, rich, black and white images of a dwarf community that appears to be both exploited and given a liveable job and lifestyle in a commercial theme park. I learnt this by talking to Peng for an hour through a translator. He sees Arbus as a strong influence but his approach with subjects seems much more long term and considered. Intense in his consideration of his own work and able to talk about the social politics, nevertheless, like many photographers he is mindful of his career, and this could influence the scope of his work.
As mentioned previously, the New Zealand show from the Auckland Photography Festival, curated by Rosanna Raymond, gave space for Maori and Pacific Island photographers who look at their place in New Zealand in quite a different way to the Pakeha view that we often get. Many of the images can be seen at the link and some of the standouts for me were the constructed psycho sexual scenarios by Russ Flatt and the edgy and potentially conflicted work of Emily Mafile’o.
The quality and interest value of the international shows was high, with known photographers such as Bruno Barbey, Claudia Fährenkemper and Marcus Lyon and many other equally interesting people and work. Even with the days I had, I didn’t get through nearly enough. Visitor numbers just seemed unlimited, and it appears all the forums and talks were very well attended. Chinese photographers value the opportunity to meet and question overseas photographers.
Seeing Marcus Lyon’s work ‘in the flesh’ was inspiring, although it took until I got home and read about his intent that I really came into his work. This is a thing I despair over with galleried shows and festivals. They generally still treat the single image as ‘a work that communicates without language’. My personal viewpoint rejects that as outdated and untrue. I’m interested in the individual motivation and the politics that invade even a non-political picture. I might get hints of this from an image and some more from a series or curated show. But so much more can come out, inspire and move me if I can connect image with words and go back and forth.
I didn’t know, for instance, that Lyon creates his single images with digital manipulation, e.g his iconic “Exodus II, Dubai, UAE, 2010” – 750 cars filling the 12 lane Sheikh Zayed Road in a perfect grid, is in fact a composite of 1000 images. Lyon: “I think an image taken at 125th of a second is kind of a lie” … He works up a final image with a goal of having the viewer ask “Is that really the world we live in?” This is the thing that really gets me buzzing and going back into the picture, but I had to come home to find it.
A group show themed on the Three Gorges Dam was shown in a rundown area of the Cotton Mill buildings where you had to almost crouch down to enter a layered and dilapidated series of gloomy spaces. A variety of photographers presented work related to the dam and the forced migration of more than a million people in a variety of ways from straight documentary through to conceptual.
There were flaws to be sure, and it did give the impression that activism around the dam and the continuing social and ecological impact is a fait-accompli but nevertheless it was exciting to see the topic so strongly raised and it would be great to see Pingyao continue raising such topics.
So political intent was apparent at Pingyao in more than one way, but maybe the biggest political event was created by the local Communist Party representatives who seemed to be on orders from Beijing to do just the opposite.
‘Jean-Pierre Laffont Legendary Photographer’ was a top-billed show with Laffont speaking at the opening ceremony. His work covered major political events through recent American history, yet the work was not immune from the flimsy and fickle hand of Chinese censorship. Twenty two images were removed from the large show with no warning.
Rumours circulated about which images and why, but the best and damning summary comes from Jean Loh in this article:
and commented on by John Turner: “…it is time the Communist Party actually listened to its art experts and stopped insulting them with petty, dense and foolish censorship”.
The pictures removed included fairly mild nudity, some images of Rajneesh or Hare Krishna community members having a good time and others documenting Mexican migrants. One can speculate about why – Western access to extreme nudity and the concurrent ‘moral decline’ in the first case; China’s concern with large religious minorities and the potential power they can wield (e.g. Falun Dafa). In the Mexican case it was suggested that there is a political link with Mexico that is sensitive.
China, from my short visit, seemed incredibly safe and friendly, characteristics that arguably come in part from a naive but heavily policed state. For instance, after the awards ceremony, I was asked by fellow New Zealanders why the police had bailed me up and had been searching my bag. In fact, myself and two Chinese photographers had been photographing and showing our images to the military and police, leaving lenses on the ground . The ‘search’ was actually a policeman kindly zipping up my unzipped bag and making sure I didn’t lose anything.
So, nice for foreigners, but not so nice if you need to express an opinion about your very livelihood after your farm land has been confiscated by corrupt businessmen and compensation isn’t forthcoming.
How China deals with its complex transition is hard to know but heavy-handed and inconsistent censorship especially in the arts just creates ridicule, both inside and outside the country.
Pingyao will be in its 17th year next year and the links with New Zealand continue to be strong. PhotoForum and the Auckland Festival of Photography have helped curate and manage a number of shows over the years and independent photographers such as Harvey Benge and Jenny Tomlin have brought their own work, so the potential for New Zealand work to be shown should only grow.
I want to acknowledge the hanging helpers that we had: Zhang Weihuan, Wang Shengyuan and Fu Haocheng, and our de-hanger and transportation support Hedyah Song. Along with translation from Chin Jay, and friends who helped get me lost and found around town Linda Zhang, Kaidi Huang and Yang Lu.
All of the accompanying photographs were made by Stuart Sontier unless otherwise noted.
September 24th, 2016
Report from Stu Sontier at Pingyao International Photography Festival, 2016.
The festival is well under way now and the craziness of hanging and captioning well behind us. This year, John Turner has curated an approx 100 image show of Tom Hutchins work from 1956, and I am here as the PhotoForum representative.
We both arrived on the 17th with the exhibition to open on the 19th. There was no sign of our framed prints so we killed time meeting a local photographer friend of John’s.
The following day we, and our 3 assigned helpers, had to first unpack and then arrange the pictures in order. Then came the task of arranging them on the wall, with less space than we had expected.
We gradually worked our way through a number of problems including missing pictures and reformatting and printing captions, finishing late in the evening. Although without captions on the wall. Throughout the hanging we already had a stream of people coming through, peering closely, taking pictures of the pictures and pictures of us with the pictures, and selfies with the pictures. Pictures of anything it seemed.
The following morning we were treated to what can only be called an extravaganza of Chinese proportions, with huge video displays showing bizarre cartoons for some unknown reason. There were some formal speeches as there are at such things but the main purpose seemed to be to get the foreign photographers out in public and subject them to what they sometimes impose on others. Again we were photographed photographing our peers photographing all manner of subjects and in a sign of the time we were also filmed from above by several drones.
The military, police and swat teams were all out in force but generally used just to keep the photographers under control. After these formalities and another million pictures added to the global stock bank, we came back to our show to interact with the audience.
Pingyao is awe inspiring to say the least, with the work of 200 overseas and 2000 Chinese photographers on show. The visitor number is huge too and an uncountable number are moving through the space, with greater or lesser levels of interest. John has been interviewed numerous times with at least two TV crews being on the list. We’ve also started visiting a few of the many other exhibitions and meeting some of the many local and overseas photographers. That includes the other NZ contingent, who are part of a curated show by Rosanna Raymond and organised by the Auckland Festival of Photography. The show, Ata Te Tangata, showcases Pacific Island photographers with a range of cultural interests. Four of the photographers, and the curator are in Pingyao, and all, with John, participated in the “Dialogue with NZ Curators and Photographers” with a good audience turnout.
The festival continues for another two full days and as a first time visitor, I can recommend attending if you want a mix of culture shock, great food, misinterpreted English and Chinese (learn a little), and an awful lot of photography covering many genres and at many levels, from top local and international names, to outstanding student work.
May 23rd, 2016
Participation in the Head On Photo Festival has been a significant career boost, says Auckland artist Cathy Carter.
A finalist in the portrait section two years running, Carter says the judges’ feedback as well as the workshops and professional collaboration associated with the Sydney-based festival has been valuable.
The artist says that the festival offered significant exposure for new work. Work by last year’s finalists toured to New York’s Photoville in Brooklyn, and Hyderabad, India, as well as exhibiting in Sydney.
Carter was one of two Kiwi finalists in this year’s Head On portrait prize with her work ‘Ophelia’. An exhibition of finalists work is exhibiting at the Museum of Sydney (until May 29, 2016). The other Kiwi finalist is Catherine Cattanach. Carter’s work Idya #2 was a finalist in last year’s Head On portrait prize.
“It’s great to be in the company of such strong and interesting work,” she says.
On the back of last year’s Brooklyn, New York show, Carter is the sole Kiwi in a group show upcoming at New York’s Agora Gallery, featuring artists from Australasia.
‘Out from Downunder & Beyond: Fine Art from Australia and New Zealand’ opens at Agora’s Chelsea gallery on May 26 and runs May 20 – June 9, 2016. Her work will also be on show in Paris in June at the MoaRoom. This show arose from Roderick Fry of Moaroom seeing Carter’s work chosen as a finalist in the Head On Portrait prize 2015.
“There’s no doubt that being part of the Head On Festival has paid dividends,” she says. “Competitions and festivals are a great way to put forward new work and share in a global conversation in the medium.”
Carter’s practice is based in Grey Lynn in Auckland. She was a 2014 Wallace Awards finalist and has twice been a finalist for the Glaistor Enor Award.
Head On Photography Festival 2016
This portrait Ophelia is inspired by pre Raphaelite painter John Everett Millais’ famous depiction of the drowned Ophelia, Hamlet’s lover from Shakespeare’s tragedy. At the original painting’s debut at the Royal Academy in London in 1852, critics were dismayed. The Times declared that “there must be something strangely perverse in the imagination which sources Ophelia in a weedy ditch, and robs the drowning struggle of that love-lorn maiden of all pathos and beauty”. Carter’s Ophelia is a contemporary young male, semi submerged in a setting as likely to have upset The Times – an alpine bog on Mt Ruapehu in the Tongariro World Heritage Park in the central North Island of Aotearoa / New Zealand. This bog was formed in land planed and hollowed out by glacier ice. This alpine wetland hosts alpine bog cushion (Donatia novae-zelandiae), containing rushes, liverworts, sedges, mosses (including peat-forming Sphagnum) and algae.
Even though both images were created in winter. Millais’ model the 19 year old Elizabeth Siddell, posed for hrs in a tub that initially was warmed by oil lamps underneath it . However when these went out Elizabeth was left lying for in freezing cold water resulting in a cold. Thanks to the immediacy of photography 22 yr old art student Ziggy Lever only had to lie in the near freezing bog for a few minutes!
In choosing to portray Ophelia as a male I was also referencing the theatrical convention of Shakespeare’s time, namely that he would have written the part of Ophelia to be played by a young man. Finally, Ophelia is thought to have taken her own life. Aotearoa/ New Zealand ‘has the second highest rate of youth suicide in the OECD and young Maori men continue to be disproportionately represented in statistics”. Just as Ophelia’s departure was shrouded in mystery, so very little is understood about why teenage boys and young men take their lives in such numbers, and very little effort has been made to understand this alarming trend. Some psychologists attribute this trend to young males’ perception of how they are seen as males in contemporary culture.
Image: Ophelia (Head On Portait Prize 2016)
Medium: archival print on Hahnemuhle photo rag 310gsm
Size: 950 x 640mm
May 23rd, 2016
BARE TRUTH – Ilan Wittenberg
5-22 June 2016
Norman King Square
Ernie Mays Street – Northcote Shopping Centre
Open daily 10am -4pm
One of the key aims of Wittenberg’s ‘Bare Truth’ campaign was to counter-balance the portrayal of men as strong, physically and emotionally. “This stereotype sometime leads to dire outcomes when considering how poorly typical men treat health symptoms such as depression, stress and anxiety,” he says.
“I wanted to raise awareness; give men the freedom to express their feelings and connect with their emotions. This fresh look at men is an eye-opening opportunity to see real people without the ‘shield’ of clothes. The project simply reminds us of how fragile we are.”
The combination of shooting in monochrome, using soft, directional light and adopting a special post-processing technique allowed Wittenberg to enhance the features of his ‘models’ so that the images are raw and crisp. The simple backgrounds eliminate distractions so the viewer can focus on their body language and facial expression.
The biggest challenge was finding the first man to agree to pose. After a few rejections, Wittenberg created portraits of close friends and family members. As the portfolio expanded, he formalised a consistent style and became confident in approaching strangers – men who had an interesting appearance or whose face told a story.
“While some men are very comfortable with having their portrait created, others feel this is completely outside their comfort zone, particularly when asked to strip down to the waist. One man expected the experience to be therapeutic while others were slightly nervous. The results show a captivating mix of men that are humble, courageous and vulnerable.”
The project gained momentum after selected prints from the body of work won awards in the Portrait Classic category of the 2015 Iris Awards from the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography. ‘Bare Truth’ was also selected as an Associated Exhibition at the 2016 Head On photo festival in Sydney.
About the photographer:
Having studied and worked in industrial engineering and information technology, Ilan Wittenberg is a relative newcomer to professional photography, only starting his journey in 2011. But his talents were quickly recognised, winning him a plethora of national and international awards. Ilan is a Fellow of the Photographic Society of New Zealand and a Master of the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography. Selected works from the Bare Truth portfolio won Ilan the title: 2015 Auckland Photographer of the Year
September 21st, 2015
Collective Passion – Singular Visions
PhotoForum – A New Zealand Legacy
19 – 25 September 2015
Pingyao International Photography Festival
Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China
Curator: Nina Seja.
Exhibition coordinator: Ian Macdonald.
An exhibition of over 70 digitally presented images selected from the History in the Taking exhibition and PhotoForum at 40 book, offering the largest photography festival in China an insight in to the influence of PhotoForum on the photographic cultural landscaper of New Zealand over the last four decades.
Update 18/10/15: View a selection of images from the 2015 Pingyao International Photography Festival at PhotoForum’s facebook Pingyao 2015 album.
September 18th, 2015
Close to Home and Far Away
Photographs by Tony Carter (NZ) and Kirk Crippens (USA)
Curated by John B. Turner for the 2015 Pingyao International Photography Festival, Pingyao, Shanxi Province, China, 19 – 25 September 2015.
“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” Henry David Thoreau (1817 – 1862)
This exhibition is a lot to do with human aspirations. Not everyone can be rich or wants to be. But wherever we fit on the socio-economic scale, our character is shaped by our life experience and our imagination. Tony Carter and Kirk Crippens know this and it is reflected in their approach to environmental portraiture. These portraits represent a collaboration between strangers, and in this case, the people, like the photographers are from very different places, far from one another, sharing a new-found connection.
Kirk Crippens’ people live in the wealthy US city of Portland, Oregon, which prides itself on promoting individualism. Tony Carter’s people live in Ohura, a run down New Zealand mining town of 130 inhabitants west ot of Lake Taupo. Crippens’ investigation, ‘Portraitlandia,’ was made in response to a popular television comedy series, ‘Portlandia’, which satirises the city of 600,000 as a hub of liberal politics and alternative lifestyles. His mix of imaginative characters suggests a high level of personal reinvention and tends to confirm Portland as a consumerist paradise. Carter’s concern is to capture an overlooked aspect of New Zealand life that is more akin to its raw pioneering days.
Both photographers, like the US philosopher Henry David Thoreau, perceive difference and nonconformity as an expression of people being true to themselves. No matter what adversity they may have encountered in their lifetime, the people in these photographs are confident enough to let the photographer enter their homes or personal spaces to reveal as much as the eye can see.
John B Turner
Images & information for this exhibition can be viewed at John B Turner’s website
Update 18/10/15: View a selection of images from the 2015 Pingyao International Photography Festival at PhotoForum’s facebook Pingyao 2015 album.
July 28th, 2015
Australian Abstractions – Gary Sauer-Thompson
as part of the 2015 SALA (South Australian Living Artists) Festival
Exhibition runs 26 July to 28 Aug 2015.
Artist talk 2pm Saturday 1 August.
Light Gallery, Centre for Creative Photography
138 Richmond Road, Marleston, South Australia 5033
Hours: 9am–6pm Mon to Thurs, 9am–5pm Fri and 10am–2pm Sat
Gary’s black and white abstractions are a stand-in for what we appear to have lost from the archives — the photographic modernist abstractions that were made in Adelaide during the 1950s and 1960s by the visual avant grade. His pictures are what he has imagined such a photography could have been like. This exhibition is an attempt to reconnect with and build upon the minor tradition of photographic abstraction in Australia. The pictures are large and medium format abstractions seen in natural and human landscapes.
Gary Sauer-Thompson is an Adelaide-based photographer and blogger. He has exhibited in several group exhibtion in Melbourne, Adelaide and Ballarat at the Ballarat International Photo Biennale. He has had solo exhibition in Canberra and Adelaide. He is currently working on two books on Edgelands to be published by Magnet in Melbourne and Australian Abstractions to be published by Moon Arrow Press in Adelaide.
May 28th, 2015
Matakana Images 2015 is on showing as part of this year’s Auckland Festival of Photography. Exhibiting artists are: Ian Macdonald, Richard Collins, Di Halstead, Richard Smallfield, Lieve Van den Bosch, Murray Savidan, Maria Krajcirovic, Andrew Martin, Karen Williamson, Sue Hill, Davina Monds, and Barbara Cope.
Matakana Images 2015
29 May – 21 June 2015
Opens Friday 29 May, 5pm
Art Matakana (mezzanine level)
Matakana Country Park, 1151 Leigh Rd, RD5 Matakana
Gallery hours Wed – Sun (10am to 3.30pm)
May 26th, 2015
Our congratulations to Auckland photographic artist Cathy Carter on selection as a finalist in the Head On international portrait competition, as part of this year’s Head On Photography Festival (1/5/15- 31/5/15). Now in its 12th year, the Head On Portrait Prize is one of Australia’s most critically acclaimed and internationally renowned photographic portrait competitions, representing a vibrant and diverse cross-section of new and traditional photographic practices.
As one of 40 finalists (and the sole kiwi finalist), Carter’s work is on show along with the other finalists, including the three winners, at the Museum of Sydney until 8 June 2015. http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/exhibitions/head-on-portrait-prize-2015.
Prize winners: Molly Carlisle Harris (winner), Glyn Patrick (2nd place), and Samanth Everton (3rd place).
Inspiration for this portrait comes from the Greek Oceanids. These were mythological goddesses responsible for protecting the body of water they inhabited, and the creatures that lived there. With the ecological crisis facing the worlds oceans and waterways, I was interested through the constructed nature of photography to imagine a contemporary representation of these mythical ecologists. The name ‘Idyia’ is derived from the Greek word to see or know. And it relates to the idea that we all see and know to some extent the destructive effects of prevailing consumerist attitudes to the environment and in particular our bodies of water. Idyia gazes back at us challenging us to defy her existence and to take action with her.
Water and more specifically the ocean has been a source of inspiration to Photographer and Installation artist Cathy Carter. There is a kinesthetic curiosity the artist explores as she floats in the ocean or dives down to capture these fluid moments. Through the use of intimate perspective she seeks to embody seeing as an experience rather than solely as observation. In suspending the body in a place of isolation and destabilization the work offers a sensuous psychologically compelling encounter to challenge perceptions and frams of reference.
Carter graduated with a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 2010, a Postgraduate Diploma in 2011 and a Master of Art and Design (Hons) in 2013.
Finalist Headon 2015 international Portrait Competition.
Finalist 23rd Annual Wallace Art Awards 2014
Nominated for the Glaister Ennor Graduate Art Awards 2013
Nominated for the Glaister Ennor Graduate Art Awards 2012
Awarded the AUT Visual Arts Photography Prize 2010
Carter has exhibited in successful solo and group shows in Auckland, Wellington & Sydney and is represented by Antoinette Godkin Gallery. http://antoinettegodkin.co.nz/