The aim of this exhibition is neither to generate nostalgia for the past nor to create an isolated exchange among experts. Rather, the exhibition seeks to present, to the greatest degree possible, photographic works that could not be shown ten years ago, and to provide an opportunity for the public to view these works and discuss their place in photographic history.
Are China’s artists expressing an empty, rootless “Chinese-ness” through a hazy understanding of traditional photographic history? What is the state of the spirit of traditional Chinese culture in today’s world? What role does art actually play in the rapid, sweeping changes seen in Chinese politics, economics, and culture? In this exhibition, these questions can be discussed through the special perspective that each of the many works provides.
New Photo ended as a magazine in 1998. Faced with the increasing proliferation of images at the time, [the founding] editors Liu Zheng and RongRong believed that they should retain their sober (and serious) stance. Ten years later, continuing the ideals and convictions of New Photo, RongRong and inri took steps to found the Three Shadows Photography Art Centre. To the joy of many viewers, New Photo—Ten Years was its inaugural exhibition.
Most of the artists introduced in New Photo magazine now form the backbone of contemporary photography in China today. Both traditional modes of approaching photography— through a documentary lens or through contemporary art—have persisted, but today’s young artists need not restrict themselves to these narrow avenues. They can jump directly into contemporary photography art: the medium of photography as an effective form of contemporary art has already been established …..At the same time, however, questions arise: How does an artist confront a tradition of accepted images and establish his/her own vision, create original work, and avoid superficial comparisons and replication?
The artists’ participation in this exhibition and the publishing of the New Photo commemorative edition have had an important effect on contemporary photography in China. Ten years ago, New Photo was a spontaneous group phenomenon in which each artist’s exploration of art and search for ideals came together with the others to produce a strong aesthetic spirit, creating a framework that changed the course of photography’s development and left a deep footprint on photographic history in China.
Zhang Li, Curator, Three Shadows Photography Art Centre, Beijing, from the FOTOFEST2008 catalogue