The Problems Facing the Conceptual Photography of China
The birth of digital technology makes people are no longer limited by technology. Everyone can be a photographer when picking up a digital camera. The first camera lens with mathematical calculations was born in 1841. Then physicist Maxwell invented the first color photo in the world. In 1888, Kodak created a new type of sensitive material—“film”. In 1977 a Japanese industrial company produced the first 135 head-AF rangefinder camera—Konica C35AF. Until the 1970s in the 20th century, high-end technology of photographic equipment went to the public. Today’s digital photographic printing technology makes the size of photos exceeds the limitations of darkroom technology and materials, and makes huge high-definition pictures possible. The emergence of digital cameras has contributed to the popularity of photography and low-cost input mode. What comes next is the status of photography. When everyone can get camera images, the art of photography is already impossible to define. Development of digital technology has launched a comprehensive attack toward the traditional photography based on film. Division standard of photography and non photography are becoming increasingly blurred.
This issue has become more apparent after the 1970s. The development of photography was hard to describe in concrete schools. Some works are characterized by high definition, large format, while others deliberately showing a snapshot and capturing a photographic model. Be it high-tech photography or the “fool” type of snapshot that ignores the picture quality, they have all displayed a concern for concepts outside of the object itself. For a moment a number of photographic concepts has come out, for example, pioneer photography, avant-garde photography, experimental photography, etc. What most people are familiar with is the conceptual photography. It should be noted that the interpretation of the conceptual photography in Chinahas been controversial. It has relatively broad scope of definitions; meanwhile its connotations are also vaguer. To a large extent, its existence is influenced by the concept of contemporary art. Practically speaking, conceptual photography appears hand in hand with contemporary arts. The earliest reference to conceptual photography can be traced back to 1988, it was mentioned in an article entitled “Our works are Waiting for the Social Examination” published on Photographic News. However, in my opinion, the conceptuality is an inherent nature of photography, because the choice of shooting angle, the selection of the object and the way to show depend on the artist’s understanding of things. As science has its dimension of ideology, the seemingly objective photography is also colored by conception, which has accompanied the development of the photography all along. The difference between traditional documentary photography and conceptual photography is just the degree and involvement of conceptions.
Conceptual photography has begun to take an important role in contemporary art when it was passed down in clubs like “April shadow photography association”, “fission group”, and “Modern photography salon”. Ever since 1990s, conceptual photography has begun to take a place in contemporary art. At that time it denoted conceptual art that took photography as a medium, using various creative ways to express personal views. The early conceptual photography was often thought as a media through which performance or installation artists could record their own behavior. Then photography began to develop towards self-disciplinary. Its essence was an extension of conceptual art. Conceptual photography of this sort began to become a common pursuit. A lot of professional photographers have turned to it from landscape photography and journalism photography which they engaged in previously. And soon conceptual photography became the very aim of contemporary art with irresistible tendency, and it became a new favorite for collectors and large-scale exhibitions.
When photography has given young artists unlimited creative possibilities, Chinese conceptual photography has also begun to appear in a “big production” trend. In the last five years, with the increasing popularity of Chinese art in overseas markets, a number of photographic artworks were snapped up by collectors at very high prices. This has surprised a lot of traditional photographers and painters. With good and bad mixed together, there are outstanding artists such as Wang Qingsong, Liu Zheng, Cui Xiuwen, Chen Linyang, and Chi Peng. But there are also many low-quality photographs full of mean thoughts. Conceptual photography to some extent has become the mainstream. But superficial and empty thoughts seem to be normal in some works when we carefully observe the domestic photographic art exhibitions. They look stylish but the images are crude and simple. However, they also boast themselves as “conceptual photography”, which makes “concept” seems like a refuge for counterfeits.
Photography has become a fast-food culture under the big flag of conceptuality. It seems that everyone can create conceptual photography as long as he has a camera at hand, even if without qualified photography skills. So I think it is important to give it a clear definition. Firstly conception is not a simple idea or a doctrine, but the level of thinking and perception skills reflected in a person’s activity. The presentation of the concept is a process of rational thinking. The whole process bears the artist’s social status, values and his inner experience. But all of these sometimes are replaced by spoof or kitsch. It seems that everything can be described as art as long as you like it.
The conceptual photography should reflect the nature of the contemporary, avant-garde and critical spirits. To Chinese photography, people have never had such crazy shooting experience. Although it is a time of prosperity, but it is also a time of aesthetic chaos, in which artists are easy to lose their artistic faith, serious ideology and get trapped in confusion and the seduction of money. If things go on in this way, photography will face more problems in the near future. Of course, nearly all kinds of art have faced periodical bubble in an age of market economy, and photography is of no exception. Therefore, the problem facing conceptual photography inChinais not particular. I believe that the bad works will eventually be overshadowed in the public with the establishment of the autonomy of art and the improvement of art institutions.