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.