Return to the Viewing: New Photography in China
Academic Host: BAO Dong
Photography can be either used to discuss public issues in media or create personal memories in albums; more often than not it is used to prove the objectivity of something while sometimes serving as a tool for the expression of emotions, imagination and fiction… Photography has already been used in a great many ways and it will provide countless potential functions. Just like other cultural practices, photography is also a socialized activity. As a visual activity, it is forever bound in all kinds of languages and systems of the vision, which bring the multitude of functions for photography and a variety of opinions we have on photography. Therefore, photography tends to be increasingly interpreted as a tool of representation while we associate photography more and more with race, sex and class, history, reality and society as well as politics, theory and text. But the viewing itself has been gradually cast into neglect.
In fact, no matter how it’s used and where it’s used, photography is first and foremost a viewing activity, with its foundation of value also depending on the viewing itself. Unlike our thoughtless presumption, the viewing is not a reflection of some pure reality, and the reality that we perceive has already been influenced, edited and even decided by the viewing, so much so that the viewing itself has already replaced the metaphysical “reality” and become what we face directly. Therefore, photography is a record of the viewing rather than the reality. As for photographers, the reality and the viewing are unified as one – the world only exists in the finder frame or LCD screen and the reality won’t come true until it’s presented in pictures.
Of course, not all the viewing is of value. In most cases, people keep repeating others’ angles and seeing through others’ lenses, resulting in insipid even obnoxious photos, especially when they flaunt their political correctness and aesthetic standard. Actually, the reason we need and put our hope in photography is that it could and should bring a creative viewing, and the most significant task of photography is to refresh our exhausted eyes.
But viewing is not an easy job, especially during this so-called “image era”. While piling up in heaps, images become more and more cheap, and the reason that the viewing becomes effortless is because people’s eyes are already tamed, their viewing is just the identification of some simple but safe aesthetics and meanings, in other words, they are just viewing those “pretty” and “easy” things. The difficulty of viewing or photography is how to break free from those “pretty” and “easy” things as well as all kinds of codes of visual languages, namely how to liberate the viewing?
The answer is plain and simple: restore photography to the viewing, namely the restoration of the world to presentation, releasing the world from the cage of all kinds of meanings and restoring its unrestrainedness through the suspension of its validity. The unrestrainedness serves as the premise of the freedom, which in turn promises us the possibility of spontaneous viewing, under such promise of freedom, each specific shooting should be a spontaneous creation of viewing, providing us with a springboard to break free from the visual languages and systems. Whereas the task of the audience is to view afresh, inviting the viewing back onto the stage until it stays on forever. In other words, the meaning of photography is for us to keep the spontaneity of the viewing and commit ourselves to it. Return to the viewing means going back to the starting point of photography as an art.