RAS Art Focus Group

RAS Library

Telling Tales: A New Era of Photography in China

Speaker: Karen Smith (curator/artistic director of Shanghai Center of Photography; director OCAT Xi’an)

How are Chinese photographers using their cameras to picture their world today? In the present age, anyone with a smartphone snapping a lot of pictures may claim themselves a photographer. How is this affecting photography in China? Images are the dominant language of communication across borders and communities of all descriptions. Yet, at the same time, almost all familiar media channels are falling by the wayside. What is the role of a professional photographer? How has the rise of art photography impacted the original independent form? How to assess the value of a photograph today has become a compelling question. What can a single image tell us about anything? How does it capture news or human drama? What is a documentary moment? Where does aesthetic value come into play?

A second question might be, what do we want from a photograph today? In her 1967 publication On Photography, Susan Sontag wrote, “Everything seems to exist to end in a photograph.” Now that everything that exists has appeared in a photograph, do we feel we understand more about the world or less? Have we learned to read images better or merely skim the elements they contain to extract an approximate reading of the photographer’s intention? Photography as a medium of expression in China today has moved on greatly from the value it was accorded even ten years ago. Has that made China’s photographers more creative? Insightful? What do the topics they present say about the socio-economic and cultural world that is China today?

Tackling these, and many other interesting questions, Karen Smith presents an overview of works by some of China’s leading and lesser known photographers.

About the speaker

Karen Smith is a curator and writer specialized in the field of contemporary Chinese art. She has made exhibitions for numerous international and domestic institutions, and has contributed texts to Art Now Volume 4, Taschen, June 2013; Vitamin D2, Phaidon, 2012; Vitamin P2, Phaidon, 2011 and numerous other publications, including Ai Weiwei for the Phaidon contemporary artist series (2009). Her own books include Nine Lives: The Birth of Avant-Garde Art in New China (2008) and the series As Seen; Notable Artworks by Chinese Artists (2011; 2013; 2015).

For more information about Shanghai Center of Photography (SCoP), please visit: https://www.scop.org.cn/about-us

For more information about OCAT Xi’an, please visit: http://www.ocat-xian.org.cn

Dress code to enter the library is business smart. Please no jeans, sneakers, T-shirts or baseball caps.

RSVP: artgroup@royalasiaticsociety.org.cn