Mark had no idea who this
was until he opened the book and saw his picture
in the forward (Marc and Mr. Wu sitting on the
bed in Marc's hotel room). As Mr. Wu only speaks
Chinese and Marc does not, they were editing
what turned out to be this book. Mark put down
cards marked; A, B, and C. that corresponded
to little piles of 5 x 7 prints with the best
pictures going in the A pile, etc. This is what
is going on in the picture
Mr. Wu had journeyed from Kunming
to find Mark in Shanghai - a thousand-mile journey
having read in the Chinese press that Marc was
in Shanghai photographing Gong Li, Asia's most
famous actress (The Red Lantern, My Favorite
Unlike Mark, Mr. Wu is an unknown
photographer, both in and out of China. Even
within the Chinese Professional Photographers
Association, Mr. Wu is a rather mysterious figure.
He is known to the CPPA as a fine photographer,
whom nobody has ever seen - a talented ghost
from a remote province. Marc Riboud, on the
other hand, is famous in China, having worked
on assignments for international magazines since
1956 and one of the first western photographers
to win the trust of the Chinese. When he shoots
in China today he is covered as a celebrity.
He has been described as the father of Chinese
photojournalism, was an early member of Magnum,
and at one time its president. He is known as
one of the world's great photojournalists.
When I saw Mr. Wu's book, I
decided to include his work in FotoFest '96
and if possible to bring him from China to participate
in the festival. Easier said than done. Three
months of faxing and letter writing between
Houston, Paris, and China finally put us in
contact with Mr. Wu. We eventually got the required
permissions, visas, etc. and Mr. Wu will come
to Houston in February to print his exhibit
at the labs of the Rice Media Center sponsored
by FotoFest and Rice University. He will lecture
in Houston, participate in FotoFest's International
Meeting Place, and be on hand for various activities
with Rice University, the photo community as
well as Houston's large Asian Community.
Our most recent meeting in
Paris in November was prompted by a need to
describe the above developments to Zeng Nian,
a Chinese photographer living in Paris, who
was instrumental in contacting Mr. Wu in China.
This resulted in a conversation at Mark's apartment
that brought about some important additions
to the above scenario. Mr. Zeng is going to
China on December 1 and will see Mr. Wu. Mark
is very concerned about Mr. Wu's trip to Houston.
From what we gather, Mr. Wu has never been outside
his province, except on the occasion of coming
to see Marc in Shanghai. Since, Marc set in
motion a chain of events that may change Mr.
Wu's life substantially, he feels a strong sense
of responsibility for the consequences. This
trip, in fact, could have significant implications
for Mr. Wu.
Marc proposes providing Mr.
Zeng with a short course to coach Mr. Wu on
how to prepare for the trip, with subjects ranging
from choices for the exhibit, to how to protect
himself and his negatives from harm. Marc is
suggesting that Mr. Wu come to Houston via Paris,
where he would be further briefed on the ways
of the west. Marc recounts a story about a Zambian
photographer who arrived at his doorstep in
New York, with no money, no passport, no cameras,
or negatives, having been ripped off at JFK
airport through some scam.
Having spent his entire life
in a remote corner of China, the west is going
to provide major culture shock. This trip should
be an incredible windfall for Mr. Wu and Chinese
photography if precautions are taken. Marc has
offered to accompany Mr. Wu to Houston with
a possible stop in New York for a couple of
days. Marc wants to document Mr. Wu's introduction
to the west for European, American and Asian
publications and eventually return to Kunming
to photograph Mr. Wu on his own turf.
My Wu is fifty-one years old
but looks much younger. By all accounts he is
a remarkable man. In spite of being poor (many
of his negatives were made on 35mm movie stock),
he is a self taught photographer, and according
to Marc, is a charming and rather shy man who
would make a wonderful subject for an essay.
His book, shown around by Mark, has made a very
favorable impression with some very important
people in the photography world. Mark told me
that Henri Cartier Bresson looked at his book
and commented that Magnum needed more photographers
like him. Robert Delpire, chief of the Centre
Nationale de la Photographie, saw the book last
week and was very complimentary about it.
Report sent to Mr. Ralph Samuelson,
Director, Asian Cultural Council, New York,
July 24, 1996:
The benefits of Mr.Wu's trip
are incalculable and I can say that this visit
and the exhibition have changed Mr. Wu's life
in many ways. The visit also changed FotoFest's
chances of opening up opportunities for playing
a role in the Chinese photography world. Events
have been set in motion that will have a long
term effect on Mr. Wu, Chinese photography as
well as FotoFest's activities in China. It is
too soon to speculate exactly what this effect
will be but I think you will get a sense of
how this might work if I tell you about some
of the highlights of Mr. Wu's visit.
First, there was a great deal
of attention paid to Mr. Wu and his exhibit.
There were about 10,000 visitors as well as
over 1,000 children from the Houston public
schools, organized by FotoFest to see his show.
The exhibit was covered by local TV and Mr.
Wu, with the help of student translators, did
daily gallery tours at the Rice Media Center
I did not realize that Mr.
Wu had accumulated an $8,000 debt from the publication
of his book. As Mr. Wu earns $80 a month as
a government photographer in Kunming, we figured
that it was going to take Mr. Wu about 800 years
to pay his debt. With this in mind, FotoFest
and the photography community in Houston got
busy and started buying prints and books from
Mr. Wu. He departed for China with over $22,000
in his pocket. I also contacted the Leica factory
in Germany, told them about Mr. Wu and that
he had never owned a camera (he always used
government equipment) and explained why he would
be an excellent candidate for their largesse.
They graciously agreed and will give him the
Leica Medal of Excellence and a new M6 Leica
in Paris when he arrives there for his exhibit
in November. Wu made enough money to get to
Paris, visit photographer Marc Riboud and meet
a lot of important people. There is other interest
in Mr. Wu's work. In 1996, Stockholm will be
the European City of Culture and I have received
serious interest from the organizers to have
the Wu exhibit there. There is also interest
in Mexico and several places in the U.S.
Mr. Wu had mentioned having
heard stories in Yunnan about an American photographer/scientist,
Joseph Rock working in the area beginning in
the 1920's. Rock's photographs appeared in the
National Geographic in 1922. Mr. Wu is very
enthusiastic about this idea and wants to have
such an exhibit in China.
Mother Jones Magazine recently called and asked
that Mr. Wu apply for their documentary prize
($25,000). FotoFest is preparing slides of the
Wu work for this purpose.
As you can see, Mr. Wu's visit
and exhibit were a great success and many exciting
projects are materializing. We are all grateful
for the help of the Asian Cultural Council in
making it possible to achieve a complete transformation
of Wu Jialin's status as a photographer as well
as providing FotoFest with visibility in Chinese
cultural and photography circles. I will keep
you informed about further developments of this
Epilogue, May 10, 1999:
Mr. Wu had an exhibit in Horten, Germany
in 1986 through a curator he met at FotoFest.
During the Stockholm 98 - European City
of Culture exhibition Under/Exposed (700 giant
photographs from some of the world's best
known photographers, shown at 21 Metro stops)
Mr. Wu's work was included.
Mr. Wu received the Mother Jones Award for
Documentary photography in 1997.
Mr. Wu had an exhibit at ICP in New York
I attended a lecture/slide show about Chinese
contemporary photography at a meeting of Oracle
at the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts
in Japan and was delighted to hear the Chinese
scholar Sushi Si say that Mr. Wu was China's
most famous photographer.
Frederick Baldwin, President