Imagine seeing an exhibition about photographers and their activities as individuals and within groups such as PhotoForum, or another photographic society in New Zealand.
It was something of a surprise, and delight, to see an exhibition of framed but unglassed photographs of Chinese photographers associated with Xie Hailong, the famous photographer and director of China’s Hope project. One of the most inspiring documentary photography projects in the world, the hope project, by showing Xie’s photographs of poverty stricken children in remote areas without schools, helped raise awareness and the money to rectify their problems and educate the kids and their families. His photo essays are, in a sense, the equivalent of what Sir Edmund Hillary and his coworkers achieved in Nepal; what the Farm Security Administration during the great depression in the United States did in the 1930s, with the work of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein and other talented photographers in Roy Stryker’s team. It is also similar to the outcome of W Eugene Smith’s great ‘Nurse Midwife’ Life essay that raised consciences and money to build medical facilities in a poor area of the US south.
Cover of Xie Hailong’s small book on the Hope Project, printed on cheap uncoated paper.
Two of the children depicted in Xie Hailong’s early photographs which inspired the Hope Project to provide schools for deprived rural children.
Xie Hailong is something of a legend in mainland China. He holds, as so many of China’s senior photographers do, numerous government-sponsored positions of influence. Recently retired, he started his own art gallery, the Dragon Gallery, in 2006. It is located in Gaobeidianxi, east Beijing, which is a one and a half hour train ride from where I live in Changping District in the north. He initiated a meeting through Zoe Zhang, and with my wife, Liu Jianguang, we met him, curator Mrs Li Jianjun, publisher Liu Feng, and saw the current exhibition in the one room gallery on 15 October 2013.
Installation view of the Dragon Gallery’s exhibition of overlooked photographs of photographers made during the 1980s.
The art scene here seems very hierarchical, which might explain why the catalogue of his exhibition at the Beijing Art Museum, Xie Hailong Artist, starts off, after a romantic cover picture of the photographer, staff in hand, posing during a tramping high above a misty mountainous valley. This Pilgrim’s Progress kind of image is followed on the small title page with a list of his public positions and awards, in an ugly type face and design. He is, for example, Vice Secretary-General of the Chinese Photographers Association, and Director General of the Images Copyright Society of China, as well as being on the Council of the Soong Ching Ling Foundation. (She was the widow of Sun Yat Sen, the acknowledged founder of the Republic of China, and a friend of Rewi Alley’s, on the side of Mao Zedong’s Communist Party. While her sister, Soong Mei-Ling, was the wife of Mao’s arch rival, Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek.) Mr Xie is also an honorary councilor of the Police Literature and Arts Association of China, and Vice Chairman of the Beijing Photographic Fine Art Association. He has won many awards for his photography and his activism for improving education for the poor.
Seeing his gallery took me back to the Snaps Gallery period when PhotoForum was getting started in the mid 1970s. Dragon Gallery is nothing posh like some of the dealer galleries in the 798 Art District that are financed by wealthy backers. Although they looked flimsy, the lack of glass protecting the prints made them easy to see, but the heavy string holding the frames was a little distracting at first glimpse. The wall labels were in Chinese, of course, but I could read the dates and ascertain that the pictures paralleled the development of PhotoForum’s education based activities of that period and earlier which encouraged the formation of galleries, collaborative exhibitions, workshops and publications. Read the full article HERE
John B. Turner, Beijing, China