New Zealand Presence at 2014 Pingyao International Photography Festival

John B. Turner’s Photography Blog, dated 16 December 2014:

The New Zealand contribution to the 2014 Pingyao International Photography Festival included three exhibitions, six floor talks, a three-hour seminar, several television interviews, posing with Chinese strangers, and making new friends from all over the world. The vocabulary of PIP volunteer translators, who were mostly students of the dynamic Amy Liu of Taiyuan Technical University, was seriously tested with our odd Kiwi accents and vernacular speech. Julia Durkin, Director of the Auckland Festival of Photography, somehow found time from intense networking to join the portfolio review team, while I, as a guest curator, was free to network after helping “my” photographers, Craig Potton (Nelson), Ian Macdonald, (Auckland), and the environmental sculpture couple, Martin Hill and Philippa Jones (Wanaka), whom I had not met before, to settle in. They were joined by Jenny Tomlin, from Auckland, who had a solo exhibition. To cap the NZ presence, Martin Hill won an ‘Excellent Photographer Award’ and 4,000 people were given a free copy of the 32-page A6 bilingual catalogue of To Save a Forest… Photographs by leading New Zealand conservationists: Martin Hill, Ian Macdonald and Craig Potton.

 

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Philippa Jones: Ian Macdonald, Craig Potton and Martin Hill, Pingyao, 2014
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John B. Turner: Student volunteers hanging Ian Macdonald’s prints for ‘To Save a Forest…. exhibition

As usual, there were pluses and minuses to the PIP Festival, with the positives dominating, and apart from the extraordinary array of photographs on display, it was the genuine warmth of their welcome, and the generous help from the volunteers that made a huge impression. Ian Macdonald summed up the exhibitions when after his initial foray he returned to exclaim that he had seen more outstanding photographs in two hours at PIP than he had seen during his recent exploration of London’s photography scene over a four week period. Ian and Elise Macdonald are legendary hosts, and Ian did as much as any official tourist bureau could to entice their new Chinese friends to get to enjoy a New Zealand visit and visit them at home in Matakana.’

Compared to her first PIP exhibition, featuring four Aucklanders, Chris Corson-Scott, Geoffrey Heath, Anita Jacobsen, and Vicky Thomas, last year, Elaine Smith’s 2014 selection was undermined by including the work of Qiane Matata-Sipu, who despite showing some promise, has simply not yet reached the level of technical competence or confidence shown by the other exhibitors: Tano Gago, Solomon Mortimer, and Tim Veling. To make matters worse, the exemplary work of Gago and Veling was displayed on the heavily shaded walls, while Matata-Sipu’s (and Mortimer’s) weaker prints received the limelight. Allocated what should have been a good space in the revamped Diesel Factory B7, the Auckland Festival was stuck between a rock and a hard place because of inadequate lighting for the best (and largest) works in their show. What’s the point of showing fine images under pathetically uneven lighting conditions? So I have to ask of the people responsible, Why wasn’t the same care taken downstairs, as that taken for the proper and more versatile lighting on the floor above where PIP’s permanent collection was newly installed? It shouldn’t be a big deal to provide reasonably even lighting on both sides of all display panels? It was galling to see, just around the corner, empty display spaces with beautiful natural light begging to be filled, and another filled with a display of backpacks for sale. (Julia Durkin informs me that restrictions on the use of nails or screws forced them to change Elaine’s planned layout for all of the work. “The lighting correction was requested,” Julia said, but like curator Alasdair Foster with his exhibition, she had no luck in getting the lighting fixed.)

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Auckland Festival of Photography’s exhibition ‘People’ at PIP

I was also tormented by the fact that no extra lighting would be provided to brighten the shaded side of the panels for our ‘To Save a Forest…’ show. The effect was to compromise viewing of most of Craig Potton’s work until late afternoon when the small floodlights unevenly illuminated his glowing prints and shaded Ian’s and Martin’s.

Martin Hill's work, 'To Save a Forest....', PIP
Martin Hill’s work, ‘To Save a Forest….’, PIP

That PIP suffers from serious underfunding is pretty obvious. The Shanxi government’s decision to make PIP more of a fair, with a new avenue of overhead lanterns lined with numerous small stalls offering tourist trinkets, demonstrates an inability to understand the uniqueness and the real needs of such a festival, with so much potential for increasing the number of informed foreign and Chinese visitors with a particular interest in photography. Equally, the razzle dazzle of the Awards event, designed exactly like a commercial television presentation, is another lost opportunity to seriously celebrate photographers and photography. Not least because when something went seriously wrong with the electronics this year, the small intended slide show of work on exhibition was not seen.

Coming back to the issue of display lighting, it was, ironically, very noticeable in B7, how beautifully lit the delightful and impressive cellphone exhibition, ‘My Bed & One Day in China’ was. Subtitled ‘The First China’s Top Ten Mobile Phone Photographers’ a kpkpw show curated by Fu Yongjun. When I asked why their lighting was superior the answer was that exhibitors could reposition the lights for their work. However that might be, the lighting system elsewhere, high in the ceiling, did not look that sufficient or flexible.

In last year’s PIP blog I had expressed my hope that the Auckland Festival and any other contributions would present significant work from south of the Bombay hills, to better represent photography in New Zealand, so it was good to see Veling, Hill and Potton included in this year’s offerings. A three-hour seminar by Hill, Potton, and Macdonald was attended by over 70 people, mainly in the younger age group, with several expressing their hope of visiting and studying in New Zealand.

Jenny Tomlin's pinhole exhibition 'Life Beyond the Lens', PIP 2014
Jenny Tomlin’s pinhole exhibition ‘Life Beyond the Lens’, PIP 2014

It is interesting, but by no means comforting, to see that some of the finest work featured at PIP is often displayed in the labyrinth of makeshift and often leaking spaces that PIP is renowned for. Thus Jenny Tomlin found her pinhole work displayed opposite that of Ed Kashi, the VII agency photographer, in equally dismal lighting in Diesel Factory A5, where my ‘Tint’ exhibition was held in 2013. For Jenny, who is an expert analogue printer, the main consolation and trade off was likely the huge number of people who “saw” her work and took an interest in her mysterious low tech images. “Glimpsed,” however, would be a more accurate description of the interaction from the great majority of onlookers who have not learned the rewards of paying adequate attention to pictures and their meaning. Some smart ones used the light from their cell phones to take a closer look in the shadows. Kashi, billed as a star attraction, and a PIP award winner, didn’t visit Pingyao to see where his three essays were displayed, but his work can best be seen in publications and on the web. Jenny’s best prints, with their nuances of tone, detail and colour need to be seen in decent lighting.

Continue reading the full article  HERE

John B. Turner, Beijing
http://johnbturnerphotography.blogspot.co.nz
http://jbt.photoshelter.com

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