You started off as a
painter and then moved on to photography, was that a sudden shift? Or
did you just get caught up in it?
For me it wasn’t really a sudden shift.
When I was about seventeen, a photograph caught my eye, it was in one
of those photography journals my teacher owned. I don’t know why,
but it left a strong impression on me. I think it was because it had a
language of its own. It wasn’t really a fantastic photograph. Truthfully,
I don’t even remember the exact image, beside the fact that it was
black and white. But from then on, I had a conscious urge to go to the
bookstores and look at the very limited photo books that were available
in China back then. I didn’t even have a camera, but I knew I had
found a new language as I flipped through those pages.
Did you feel that photography was more direct than painting?
Well, they are different, but because I was educated as a painter I’ve
been trained to look and process images the way a painter does. It wasn’t
until the age of 21 that I got a camera and started to shoot, but I had
no technical training at that point. [laughing].
Was that about the time when you started photographing Chinese
Actually, from the period of 89’ to 93’ my photos consisted
mostly street photography in the tradition of Henri Cartier-Bresson (Wiki:
Cartier-Bresson). I had a natural affinity with Bresson, maybe because
he started off as a painter too. During those 4 years I had only one camera
and one lens, I carried it in my book bag and shot wherever I traveled.
Because there was no money in China, I had to cut and roll the negatives
myself. From printing and developing my photos I began to learn about
the more technical aspects of photography. I learned from making mistakes
So you were self-educated?
Yes, with a trail and error approach. With one question at a time, I made
my way through. In the following years, from 93’ to 98’, I
started to shoot professionally, shooting feature stories for magazines
and such. [Beijing
Italy (1996), India
(1997) ] It was then that I learned to organize specific ideas and how
to present them visually: realizing, executing, and then completing the
work. I first went to Germany without any professional experience, and
not having earned any meal tickets in this line of work, but I went without
fear. Whichever magazine I liked, whichever publication had the best reputation,
I would just called them up and make appointments to see them.
So it was you against the world…
Yes, yes. I gathered up 4 years worth of my work, and organized them into
portfolios and began to show them around. Normally you just drop off your
portfolio but, maybe because there were very few photographers from China
in Germany at that time, I always managed to get interviews, and most
of those face-to-face appointments were successful. This went on for my
entire stay in Germany. It gave me such a high. Everything exceeded my
It was a token of recognition?
An encouragement of course! From then on I was asked to be in exhibits
and to shoot feature stories.
As a matter of speaking, this wasn’t simply about work
anymore. Photography has engaged you in such a way that has shaped your
It was a means to reach those ideals that I had been searching for. My
life was very much attached to my professional interests. During those
6 years I also spent about a year and half as an art director for an advertising
firm. This was the opposite of the problem solving involved in photojournalism,
working at the ad agency was more about creating dreams, it was fun. But
in 98’, as I turned 30, I came to a total realization! [laughing]
I felt I had enough of this kind of life.
When did you began to investigate other aspects in photography outside
All the photos of performance
artists and the Wo-Men
(1993-1998) series were taken between ‘93 and ‘98. They were
part of my experience along with my photojournalistic work at that stage.
When shooting for a publication, you have to ask yourself "what do
they [the readers] want to know?" When I am shooting for
myself, the difference is that I am satisfying my thirst for
So photography became a conceptualizing process for you?
My early street photography was very visceral, they were done mostly out
of instinct with a touch of surrealism. In retrospect, I think I was borrowing
from reality as I searched for my own images, and my own vision. While
in the process of constructing what I want in my work, I try to incorporate
elements from my everyday surroundings. By doing this I can confirm my
own way of seeing.
When you started working on your Scroll
Series (1999-2000), I noticed you were moving away from the so-called
representational photography and into more formal studies about the nature
of photography. It seems like you were interested in time and how to represent
it in a 2-dimensional format.
At that point I wanted a revolution to set myself free. While a painter
creates realities from inside their head, a photographer must be faithful
to a certain external reality. I wanted to try and reconcile these two
seemingly opposing views and hopefully in that process push my work into
a new level. I didn’t mind being either a painter or a photographer;
for the most part I simply wanted to be considered an artist. X
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