We are very excited to be involved with the exhibition ‘Real Pictures: Imaging XX’ curated by Nina Seja, opening at the Gus Fisher Gallery this Friday 2 June. PhotoForum is publishing the catalogue as PhotoForum issue number 88, which will be distributed to PhotoForum members and be available for sale at the gallery.
Dr Seja wrote the detailed history of PhotoForum ‘PhotoForum at 40’, and it is a pleasure to be collaborating with her again on this project, presenting work by five artists associated with the hugely influential photography gallery and laboratory Real Pictures, which operated in Auckland from 1979 to 1990.
Geoffrey H. Short
Director, PhotoForum Inc.
Catalogue for the exhibition ‘Real Pictures: Imaging XX’ at the Gus Fisher Gallery, 2 – 30 June. Exhibiting artists Sue Gee, Megan Jenkinson, Marie Shannon, Deborah Smith and Jenny Tomlin. Curated by Nina Seja in association with PhotoForum.
Jenny Tomlin, ‘Sedge, Windy Point, Whatipu, 1985’. From the series ‘The Well Kept Wilderness’.
Poster for the exhibition ‘Photographs by Marie Shannon’, Real Pictures, 1985. Image: ‘Waiting for the Tide’ 1985.
Megan Jenkinson, ‘Hand to Hand II’ 1985, Cibachrome collage.
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.
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. http://cargocollective.com/PengXiangjie http://www.photoint.net/detail_news_3638.html
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. http://www.pip919.com/31/161309855.html
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. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2015/feb/18/marcus-lyon-best-photograph-sheikh-zayed-road-dubai
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: http://www.loeildelaphotographie.com/en/2016/10/12/article/159922682/pingyao-photographers-paradise/
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
Jenny Tomlin, darkroom printer and pinhole photographer will be having a solo show of her work, Life beyond the Lens at this year’s Pingyao festival (September 19 – 25). She will be attending the festival along with other NZ photographers, including Ian Macdonald, Craig Potton and Martin Hill. The pinhole work spans 12 years and is a continuation of her approach to landscape. The natural wilderness and urban gardens both share a similar sense of altered reality. The images are produced from cameras made from discarded or recycled objects and take advantage of each camera’s unique nature.
Exhibition of three leading New Zealand conservation photographers at 2014 Pingyao International Photography Festival 19 to 25 September
‘To Save a Forest… Photographs by leading New Zealand conservationists: Martin Hill, Ian Macdonald and Craig Potton’
This exhibition of 34 large prints was prepared by guest curator John B. Turner, and brings together for the first time works by three acclaimed New Zealand artists devoted to celebrating and preserving the natural wilderness: Martin Hill, Ian Macdonald and Craig Potton. It will be shown at the 2014 Pingyao International Photography Festival, Shanxi Province, China, from 19 to 25 September 2014. Each of the artists will travel to Pingyao and participate in a seminar on their work. John Turner will visit from his new base in Beijing.
Known internationally as a designer and environmental sculptor, Martin Hill, makes impeccable photographic records of temporal art works made in collaboration with his partner Philippa Jones. In December 2014 they will head off to Antarctica to continue their environmental art works.
Ian Macdonald was a leading figure in a successful international campaign to save Whirinaki forest from exploitation and has photographed some of the world’s most important wilderness areas for the British Broadcasting Corporation. He is well known also as the director of the influential Real Pictures lab and gallery in the 1980s, and later for his directorship of Matakana Pictures.
Craig Potton helped save a unique native beech forest from clear felling before adopting photography as his main weapon as a green advocate and publisher dedicated to preserve wilderness areas. For this exhibition Potton pairs images of the same nominal subject matter to reiterate the importance of viewpoint and moment for establishing meaning and beauty in a photograph. He is a prominent photographer and independent publisher in New Zealand.
Aiming to share the awe of being surrounded by ancient trees and flora in a native forest, Ian Macdonald’s work has evolved from standard one point perspective views to multiple, highly detailed composite views stitched by computer software to produce remarkably tactile and plausible new views of ancient trees and forests.
Made from primary elements of the earth and referencing the cyclical principles of nature through universal symbols such as the circle, Martin Hill’s sculpture and photographs advocate for a sustainable, restorative economy. He has increasingly incorporated a human outline in his recent environmental sculptures. Whether made from ice, moss or other local materials, his temporal guardian figures remind us for example, of how profoundly our own bodies, composed of over 60% water, are reliant on the protection of these vital natural systems for our own survival.
John B. Turner
Cat. 03. Martin Hill: Watershed Guardian, from the Watershed Project. Cast ice, snow. Sculpture
height 1600mm. 2012. Albert Burn Saddle, Mt Aspiring National Park, New Zealand
Cat. 14. Ian Macdonald: Heron Island, Dusky Sound panorama, Fiordland, New Zealand, 1995
Cat. 25. Craig Potton: Storm, Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand
See also this article on Auckland based photographer Jenny Tomlin’s exhibition of pinhole images at the 2014 Pingyao Photo Festival.
UPDATE: from press release dated 26 Sept. 2014
For print purchase and exhibition enquiries please contact:Turner PhotoBooks, Beijing firstname.lastname@example.org
John B. Turner: Mob. +86 152 0132 0625 (English)
Liu Jianguang: Mob. +86 132 6107 6595 (Chinese)
If you are interested, Turner PhotoBooks would be happy to send you a PDF of the exhibition catalogue with all photographs and text, for publicity purposes.
We have already received interest from one Beijing gallery and are seeking further expressions of interest to enable us to finance and prepare a travelling exhibition of ‘To Save a Forest…’ so it can be shown in professional venues all over China during the next five years. Our intention is to mount a fresh show with a large-format catalogue, and also offer to sell signed prints by these top New Zealand photographers in China and elsewhere. Please email John B Turner at email@example.com for more information, or telephone us at one of our Beijing numbers below.
Following up on the important theme of how photographers can continue to help protect our earth
The ideas upon which ‘To Save a Forest… ” is based – are nothing less than what Martin Hill rightly describes as “burning issues” and the protection of our Earth’s natural resources which are vital to our survival.
We want to acknowledge the crucial work carried out by the New Zealand goverment, and The People’s Republic of China, despite much greater difficulties, in the area of conservation and preservation of the wilderness. These New Zealand photographers, therefore, wish to reach out to meet more of their Chinese counterparts, and those from every country involved in the ecological and conservation movement, to work together on their common cause.
For these reasons, I am willing to put my services at the disposal of like-minded individuals and organisation for what is without doubt one of the world’s most urgent and important issues. These photographers have already saved heritage forests from destruction and have devoted their artistic lives to the cause of conservation. And that is why they are being honored in China and around the world.
For those interested in this upcoming Pinhole Camera & Journal Making Workshop, please contact Jenny Tomlin for further details at firstname.lastname@example.org . Please note bookings are essential as class size is limited.
Diversity brings together photographers with diverse approaches, three Auckland photographers from Photoforum and six from The Developing Tank, which is a photographic discussion group made up of photographers from the Mahurangi region.
A Fine Line Gallery is located at 17 Sharp Rd, halfway between Warkworth and Matakana (next door to Charlie’s Gelato Garden). Gallery hours: Open 7 days, 10am – 5pm, September to May. Ph 09 422 7942.
All are welcome to the opening on Friday 22 October (5.30 – 7.30)