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China: Meeting Place FotoFest Beijing
October 23-27, 2006
Report by Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss

Krzysztof Candrowicz photo of reviewers

We begin this report with one of FotoFest’s most unexpected and successful programs.

The Meeting Place FotoFest Beijing 2006 grew out of the trip we made in November 2005 to the LianZhou PhotoFestival in south China and the subsequent trip to FOTOFEST2006 by ten Chinese curators, photographers, journalists, and businessmen. Two of them, GAO Lei and Jimmy Chu, proposed that FotoFest collaborate in creating a Meeting Place portfolio review in Beijing.  We agreed and set the conditions under which the collaboration could function.
Wendy Watriss, Artistic Director of FotoFest and Jimmy Chu, Co-Organizer of MPFB2006, at the Grand Opening.

Three months later, China Hewlett Packard had raised $133,000 and made the event move forward.

Following a national press conference they held in Beijing during July 2006 in the building of China Hewlett Packard, FotoFest organized and invited important national/international curators to be portfolio reviewers. Most people accepted, and the list of 30 reviewers was very impressive – leading museums, artist spaces, festivals, commercial galleries, photo agencies in Europe, North America and Australia.  Five Chinese curators were invited to review. [The list of reviewers is included at the end of the narrative report.]

Based on FotoFest’s registration templates, the Chinese organizers created a new website and web-based registration process. They advertised throughout China. Over 1,000 Chinese photographers applied for the advertised 260 spaces for the four-day period.  The website had four million visitor hits between August-October 2006. The portfolio reviews were free.

The Press Conference organized by HP and held on July 24, 2006 reached a broad range of Chinese media.

China Hewlett Packard was the principal sponsor and main organizer of MPFB2006. Special support for FotoFest’s work came from Mary Lawrence Porter. In China, additional support came from Q Image, Beijing and China Photography Magazine.

The MEETING PLACE FOTOFEST BEIJING 2006 ( MPFB2006) was full. The 278 photographic artists, documentary photographers and photojournalists came from almost every province in China, including the largest cities and many rural areas. Every reviewer had a translator for the four-day period. Leading up to the event, one of the Chinese organizers, GAO Lei, Beijing photographer and founder of Q-Imaging, gave photographers free workshops in how to organize portfolios and create CDs for the reviewers.  With help of printing from China Hewlett-Packard, Q-image Lab and GAO Lei, a master printer, 25 percent of the registrant photographers received free printing for the portfolios they presented.

The organization of the event was flawless. China Hewlett-Packard, worked with GAO Lei and  the co-organizer Jimmy Chu, from Hong Kong, who did all the logistics – hotel, meals, review scheduling, travel reimbursements, transportation in Beijing, tour of Beijing (Great Wall, Tiananmen Square, and Forbidden City), opening and closing ceremonies,  press conference, publicity, special ceremonies, etc.

For most reviewers, MPFB2006 was their first trip to China. Almost all reviewers have said they plan to work with one or more Chinese photographers as a result of this event – exhibitions, gallery representations, published portfolios. Some plan to purchase works.

With Photo-eye in Santa Fe, New Mexico, FotoFest and MPFB2006 will create a special website gallery for the 34 Chinese photographers whose work was voted particularly interesting by all the reviewers. The web gallery will carry all three organizational names, and it will go on line in 60 days. The website gallery address will be www.photoeye.com/fotofestbeijing

The event was a first for everyone concerned. Chinese photographers and curators said it could transform the photographic arts in China. 

One of China’s most senior and internationally known photographers, Wu Jialin, came from Yunnan Province as an invited guest to observe the Meeting Place FotoFest Beijing in action. Two weeks ago he sent his observations to the Chinese organizers, who translated it for us:

Photographers get the numbers of reviewers they have chosen. This part of the lottery system developed by FotoFest and introduced to China for the first time. MPFB replicates the Houston review.

Meeting Place FotoFest Beijing 2006 was successfully completed in the evening on October 27… This is the most important Chinese overseas exchange event in China’s photography history.

China is a big country in terms of photography. With numbers of photographers ranked among the top in the world. However, Chinese photographers are hardly noticeable in mainstream photo festivals, art museums, exhibitions, publishers, galleries, photo foundations and awards in the west. It only rarely happens for a few individuals. As a common “international language”, photography has been dominated by the West.

Photographers waiting to meet the reviewers for their twenty minute session.

Meeting Place FotoFest Beijing 2006 is an event, in a fundamental sense, truly to help Chinese photography to be “internationally connected”. Organized by professionals like Gao Lei and Jimmy Chu and China Hewlett Packard, joined by Chinese Photography Magazine. With generous help and support from FotoFest, Fred Baldwin and Wendy Watriss, this event was created. The timing was great.

It was the time when a large number of photographers went through years of searching, practicing and dealing with confusions ... The Meeting Place FotoFest Beijing was the time when many good photographers surfaced. Many Reviewers were surprised by the high quality works of Chinese photographers at the Meeting Place.

Amongst all the photographers participated in Meeting Place, some had been successful and quite active in China and overseas in recent years. Most of them came from humble backgrounds from all over China. There were also minorities from border provinces. Portfolio reviews really inspired the photographers. They learned and recognized more about some of the standards that made a good photograph. They confirmed their own photography beliefs. The Meeting Place created opportunities and good fortunes for some of the high quality photographers. 

Bert Finger has a well known commerical gallery, Photographs Do Not Bend, in Dallas, Texas. He and his wife Missy are very interested in young artists and they have launched the careers of many photographers through the Meeting Place at FotoFest.

Amongst all the photographers participated in Meeting Place, some had been successful and quite active in China and overseas in recent years. Most of them came from humble backgrounds from all over China. There were also minorities from border provinces. Portfolio reviews really inspired the photographers. They learned and recognized more about some of the standards that made a good photograph. They confirmed their own photography beliefs. The Meeting Place created opportunities and good fortunes for some of the high quality photographers. 

A few days after the close of MPFB2006, GAO Lei sent us an email with the following comment: “ The event activates a new platform for Chinese artists communicating with western photographic communities directly.  MPFB2006 becomes a hot topic among photographers and artists all over the country. Positive feedbacks from participants to the event come to me endlessly.”

Wendy Watriss and Frederick Baldwin
FotoFest International

Photographs taken with Leica Digilux 2

REVIEWERS
MEETING PLACE FOTOFEST BEIJING 2006


United States  
Robert Blake International Center of Photography, New York, New York
Fred Baldwin FotoFest International, Houston, Texas
Diana Edkins Aperture Foundation, New York, New York
Burt Finger Photographs Do Not Bend Gallery, Dallas, Texas
Yossi Milo Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, New York
Allison Nordstrom George Eastman House, Rochester, New York
Sandra Phillips San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, California
Alan Rapp Chronicle Books, San Francisco, California
Barbara Tannenbaum Akron Art Museum, Akron, Ohio
Rixon Reed Photo Eye Gallery, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Charles Traub School of Visual Studies, New York, New York
Ricardo Viera Lehigh University Art Galleries, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
Thom Vogel Bonni Benrubi Gallery, New York. New York
Katherine Ware Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Wendy Watriss FotoFest International, Houston, Texas
Clint Willour Galveston Art Center, Galveston, Texas
Tim Wride Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, California
 
Canada
Marie Fraser Mois de la Photo, Montreal
 
Europe
Krkrzystof Candrowicz Lodz Photography Festival,  Lodz, Poland 
Xavier Canonne Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium
Francois Hebel Les Rencontres des Arles, Arles, France
Thomas Kellner Photographer: Network, Siegen,Germany
Ekaterina Kondranina Moscow House of Photography, Russia
Celina Lunsford   Fotografie Forum, Frankfort, Germany
Johan Sjostrom  BildMuseet, Umea, Sweden
Chris Steele-Perkins Magnum Photos, London, U.K.
Christoph Tannert Kunstlehaus Bethanien, Berlin and Berlin PhotoFestival
Bas Vroege    Paradox Project, Amsterdam, Holland
Manfred Zollner fotoMagazine, Hamburg, Germany
 
Australia
Alasdair Foster Australian Center of Photography, Sidney
 
China
Huang Du Curator and Art Critic, Beijing 
An Ge     GuangDong Art Museum, GuangZhou
Chen Guangjun 798 Photo Gallery, Beijing
Li Mei Curator, Beijing
Gao Yufeng Collector, Shanghai

 

Bas Vroege, a curator and media expert from Holland, works closely with his volunteer translator to help discuss the art.

COMMENTS FROM REVIEWERS
MEETING PLACE FOTOFEST BEIJING 2006

Johan Sjöström, BildMuseet. Umea, Sweden

I must admit that I was surprised by the general quality of the portfolios I saw.  I saw three or four amazing bodies of works and lots of good material … Before I went I suspected that the art/photography scene would be politically controlled and under pressure from governmental censorship, much like the situation in Hanoi, where I have been living and working.  But I saw several interesting photographic projects about politically sensitive stuff,  for instance the situation in Tibet, the very poor conditions in Chinese jails, the one-child policy, and environmental changes … The event is a total win/win on all levels.

Richard Viera, Lehigh University Art Galleries, Bethehem, PA, developed a close rapport with his translator.

Katharine Ware, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania USA

For me FotoFest Beijing 2006 was an extraordinary experience.  To be honest, I didn’t have clear expectations as I had never traveled to China or any part of Asia, nor did I know a great deal about Chinese photography … But having the chance to meet and converse individually [with Chinese photographers] while looking at their work, was, at least from my end of the experience, really interesting, really special and really valuable….. The work that I saw was, primarily, accomplished prints and resolved bodies of work … I was surprised how many of the photographers worked in both color and b&w, which seems more unusual in the U.S. In most cases, the artists were able to work successfully in both.  I saw a lot of documentary work and some of it was extremely well done.  I was a little disappointed that the artists generally had little to say about why they chose their subjects or why they made that work, or why it was important. What seemed to unite the variety of photographers who participated, almost without exception, was a sense of loss over traditional ways of life (and the desire to record their passing) and a sense of being overwhelmed and isolated by the tremendous pace of urban growth and change in China.  The singularity of this two-pronged message was loud and clear.
(from left to right) Tim Wride, Allison Nordstrom, Thomas Kellner (sitting), Bert Finger, Diana Edkins, and Katherine Ware relax at the end of the fourteen session portfolio review.

Thom Vogel, Bonni Benrubi Gallery, New York, New York USA

What I discovered was a wonderment of photographic professionals with amazing skills. Naturally not all the artists met my needs, but I certainly found a few whom I plan to pursue or follow…As a Westerner, I very infrequently come across Chinese photography and having this opportunity was an eye-opening experience for which I am grateful. I found almost all the photographers extremely professional and all very passionate in their image making.  The only thing lacking was their experience in getting their images seen outside of their own regions and that is where reviewers can help them build confidence in showing their work beyond their own comfort zones.

Tim Wride, photography curator from the Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles, California.

Xavier Cannone, Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium

It was a very good and efficient meeting which gave us the real weight and knowledge about Chinese photographers in China.  The kind of photography, from photo-reportage to fine art, was very complete.  I appreciated that the photographers don’t come only from Beijing but from all over the country.  I am still surprised when I think, with how little time, the organizers had to concretize the event, how efficiently and perfectly they did it, from translators to the team.  This should be mentioned… An event
I’ll never forget.

TOURING BEIJING

In addition to the meeting Place the ogranizers provided a welcome “tourism break” in the middle of the four day portfolio reviews.  This was much appreciated and enjoyed.

Clint Willour became the intrepid leadetr of the No Hats, forging through gate after gate following the Red Hats into the Forbidden City.

There is a vibrant “art scene” in Beijing, most of it centered in an industrial area that once was an East German factory manufacturing military weapons during the Mao period.  Today many of the spaces have been converted into 104 commercial galleries, art spaces, museums, studios and cafes.  This area is known as Dashanzi Art District.  One of the most successful photography galleries is the 798 Gallery.

Chen Guangjun is one of the curators at 798 and he was one of the four Chinese who reviewed at the MPFB2006 portfolio review.  Yunnan photographer Wu Jialin is represented by 798 Gallery.

798 Photo Gallery owners with Jimmy Chu and Wendy Watriss. (Below) Some of the color photographs taken during the Cultural Revolution are selling for very high prices to Chinese collectors. One large print sold for $60,000.

Regrettably, there was no time to explore all the galleries in the Dashanxi Art District.  

The Dashanzi Art District is huge and there was a surprise around every corner.

Some galleries showed surprisingly different approaches to Chinese history.

Our day off included a wonderful trip to the Great Wall which was spectacular.

Johan Sjostrom and Fred Baldwin enjoying view from the Great Wall of China. Xavier Cannone is on the right.

In addition to seeing a lot of photography, much of which was surprising and good, the same can be said for the food which also was abundant. Cheers!

Sponsored by:

China Photography
Magazine

Mary Lawrence Porter

 

    ©2006 FotoFest | info@fotofest.org