Week Number 2: The Now-That-You’re-Way-Over-Jet Lag-Let’s-Get-Even-More-Serious-About-Work Week
by Abby Robinson
Photo © Abby Robinson, View from the Brick and Wood North Temple Pagoda, the Highest Pagoda in Suzhou
So what else is new? As I wrote last week, Stefen Chow launched the module of our program where we meet with people actively involved with Chinese/Asian photography (and he set the bar very high). On Tuesday, that component gained additional traction with a double header.
First up, a trip to Moganshan. Also known as M50, it’s located in the northwest part of the city, and is Shanghai’s version of the old Soho (It’s a bit too funky and small to qualify as current day Chelsea). Less than 10 years old, the district houses many of the city’s galleries along with some artist studios, a few boutiques and a couple of restaurants. Zane Mellupe, our wonderful liaison person, arranged a tour tailored to our interests. We started out with a visit to Island 6 founded in 2006 by SVA graduate Thomas Charvariat. Island 6 is a not-for-profit organization that shows artwork (ranging from traditional 2D to 3D work to interactive video pieces) by a group of Shanghai artists called the Liu Dao art collective.
This was followed by visits to Eastlink, Tangram and Epson where the gallerists discoursed about the artists that they showed. We also met with Steven Harris from M97; he gave a terrific talk last year about his gallery and the Shanghai photo world and he gave another equally good one this time on his current show “Some Days,” a solo exhibition by Wang Ningde. That was followed by a stop at Belgian photographer/multi-media artist Christophe Demaitre’s studio, to see the images he makes employing alternative processes.
Photo © Abby Robinson, Huang Yunhe of Ofoto Explaining Wang Tong’s Reenactment Series
After a lunch break we dropped into ShanghArt and Other gallery. At OV Gallery, the director and art critic Rebecca Catching spoke eloquently about the challenges faced by artists and gallerists working in China. As we did in 2010, we went to see Huang Yunhe, Ofoto’s director, who was as generous with his time this year as last. This time round, in addition to talking about the work on the walls done by the photographers in his stable, he’d arranged for one them, Shao Shao, to chat with us about the symbolism employed in one of his series. The discussion was quite instructive.
But the day wasn’t over yet. That evening Lois Raimondo spoke with us in my suite (i.e. our classroom). Lois, who now occupies the Shott Chair in Journalism at the PIR School of Journalism at West Virginia University, has done extensive shooting in Asia; she was affiliated with AP in Hanoi and was later a staff photographer at The Washington Post. She showed some of the incredible work she’s shot in Afghanistan and remarked at length about how important it is to create a context for your images. She also stressed how vital it is to establish connections with local people, who not only make for good stories themselves but ultimately provide necessary and strategic contacts.
And speaking of context, Edwin Lai, senior lecturer and subject coordinator (photography) at Hong Kong Art School flew to Shanghai later in the week to give us a comprehensive, informative and valuable lecture on the history of Chinese photography, which put much of the imagery that we’ve seen in perspective.
As perspective is key, it’s important to see and photograph other venues besides Shanghai. So we took a day trip out of the city with our informative guide Henry Hong. Our destinations: the ancient water town of Zhu Jia Jiao with its distinctive bridges and Suzhou, the Venice of the East renown for its silk* and for its World Heritage Site, The Master of Nets Garden.
Some of our students—Christil, Ryan, Leah, Cassie and Ivan—decided to travel even a little further a field, heading off for the weekend to shoot in Huangshan (a.k.a. Yellow Mountain), where they made some good images. Jocelyn and Phil opted to stay in Shanghai, where they too made good images.
The upshot of all of this: final projects are firming up as we catapult into Week number 3.
Photo © Abby Robinson, Workers Pull Fabric Into Thin Layers at the Silk Factory in Suzhou
*When we visited a silk factory we were given a useful lesson on how to tell if something is really made of silk (which is worth passing on). Real silk should feel exactly the same on both sides; if you blow on it, you’ll feel the air pass from one side of the material to the other; and if set on fire, the real stuff burns like paper rather than balling up and disintegrating like plastic.