Free entrance at Three Shadows Photography Art Centre
Photography as a medium has been used to document and archive boundless topics, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. From the beginning of its history, photography has been used to provide visual evidence, proof of what « really » happened — whether it has been used for scientific, criminal or other purposes. On the other hand, photography filters and mediates what is preserved. Photo archives capture history as much as they enshrine the perspectives of those who have recorded it; they integrate both processes of remembering and forgetting. What can we really learn from what we see in a picture? Many artists use the photography of others as the source material of their work. Their ways of interacting with the archive deepen the viewer’s insight into the initial organization of material used to preserve the past.
Timothy Prus is the curator of The Archive of Modern Conflict, an organisation dedicated to the collection and preservation of vernacular photographs, objects, artefacts, curiosities, and ephemera. Founded in 1991, the archive began as a collection of photographs relating to war and conflict but has since expanded its remit to become the vast and thematically diverse repository it is today (nearly 8 million images). Together with Ruben Lundgren, Timothy Prus curated the exhibition Anything That Walks, a collection of photographs by amateurs and professionals from the 1960s to the 1990s in China, showing how food has been staged long before the hashtag #foodporn became popular online.
Xu Lin, a Chinese engineer who moved to the United States in the early 1990’s, has been exploring the U.S. National Archives over the past ten years, in search for aerial views of China in the 1950s and 1960s. When Cold War was at its peak, between 1957 and 1967, over 100 reconnaissance missions were successfully flown over China, covering from Xinjiang and Tibet to Heilongjiang and Hainan Island. The U-2 high altitude reconnaissance airplane was the most important image collecting platform of the period. Images collected then are precious resources in the study of China’s changes of landscape, urbanization and economics.
Born in the 1980s, Lau Wai and Lei Lei have at least one thing in common: they use old photos and images belonging to a collective imagination (film clips, postcards, archive images, vintage albums unearthed at flea markets...), in order to decipher our era and the past representations that have shaped it. These artists invite us to reflect on what it means to be an author and what has become of image ownership today. Beyond taking photos, they think about how we acquire, read, and share images in the age of media and social networks.
Gu Zheng, art critic and historian, consultant for Jimei x Arles International Photo Festival