Recent Photobooks from China
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Michael Wolf, Hong Kong Rubber Boots and Shoes
(Berlin: Peperoni Books, June 2016). 72 pages, hardcover, clothbound.
Size / 150 × 205 mm
Hong Kong Rubber Boots and Shoes is the seventh volume in Michael Wolf’s photo-book series about Hong Kong’s back alleys, following Hong Kong Assemblage Deconstructed, Hong Kong Umbrella, Some More Hong Kong Seating Arrangements, Hong Kong Informal Seating Arrangements, Hong Kong Flora, and Hong Kong Trilogy. Wolf makes images that are concerned with the density of the urban landscape and the juxtaposition of private life and public space. In this book, Wolf points his camera at hidden alleyways, photographing slippers stuck in a water pipe, rubber boots, gloves dangling from wire hangers, and dried-up meat hanging in a storefront. The images have the quality of snapshots, offering a glimpse into working-class life overshadowed by skyscrapers. The rich color and the careful composition together draw an intimate portrait of everyday life in Hong Kong.
Yi Mo, MOYI 1983–89
(Japan: Zen Foto Gallery, 2016). Edition of 1,000. 144 pages, softcover.
Size / 215 × 153 mm
MOYI 1983–89 is a retrospective presentation of Chinese photographer Yi Mo’s works since the 1980s, including his early series “Old Landscapes,” “Fathers,” “My Illusory City,” “ One Meter: The Scenery Behind Me,” and “Swing Bus.” A significant figure in contemporary Chinese photography, Mo centered his early work on urban landscapes, street portraiture, and self-portraits. These black-and-white, low-contrast images evoke oppressive, intense experiences of social disturbance following the economic reform and and political protests of the 1980s. His use of low vantage points and blurry frames generates a sense of unsettledness, even desolation. In his later work, Mo breaks the boundary of straight photography, incorporating performance and installation. This book weaves together 30 years of work. Many images are printed with their original film border, and the book cover is printed with a contact sheet from film negatives.
Zhe Chen, Bees & the Bearable
(China: Jiazazhi Press, March 2016). First edition of 800. 280 pages, 19+1 saddle-stitched booklets, 75 color plates, 40 grayscale journals and letters.
Size / 260 mm × 210 mm × 25 mm
Following a long period of self-inflicted injury, Zhe Chen uses images and text to investigate a psychological journey of self-realization. Bees & the Bearable comprises two photographic projects. The Bearable is a series of portraits documenting Zhe’s self-harm from 2007 to 2010. Her camera lens penetrates the the dark space of the photographs, touching on the urge — and attendant thrill — to wound the body in search of the liberated soul. To create Bees, Zhe spent two years interviewing and photographing the self-injury of a marginalized group of people, with whom Zhe exchanged experiences of pain and depression. Like a diary, it presents their psychological world. “The title Bees came from Virgil’s ‘The Georgics’: ‘if hurt, they breathe/Venom into their bite, cleave to the veins/And let the sting lie buried, and leave their lives/Behind them in the wound,’” Zhe said during an interview. By presenting a collection of diary excerpts and online chat histories alongside Zhe’s images, this book serves as a visual archive of the lost and their search for self through self-inflicted harm. The book is designed as a layered notebook, in which 19 photo books are inserted into a smaller booklet with texts.
Matjaž Tančič, 3DPRK
(China: Jiazazhi Press, November 2016). First edition of 1,000. 56 pages, hardcover, with silk-screen printing with 3-D glasses, 56 3-D cards, and introduction booklet inside.
Size / 195 × 155 × 65 mm
In collaboration with Koryo Studio, a Beijing-based art gallery specializing in the commission and sale of works by artists from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Slovenian Matjaž Tančič photographed people across North Korea with 3-D stereoscopic technology. 3DPRK presents 56 3-D portraits taken in restaurants, farms, factories, playgrounds, parks, hospitals, and stores. Lit with a single flash, these staged, even theatrical portraits simulate the visual style of North Korea’s propaganda images. Situated in a cardboard box with a pair of 3-D glasses for viewing, the stereoscopic images offer the viewer an intense visual experience of peeking into the secret life of people living in one of the most isolated countries in the world.
Ren Hang, Food Issue
(China: Same Paper Studio, 2015). First edition of 100; second edition of 300. 52 pages, a piece of tablecloth, 700 × 700 mm.
Size / 161 × 214 mm
The Chinese photographer Ren Hang, who committed suicide on February 24, 2017, was known for the controversy around and censorship of his work. Ren Hang made nude portraits of young men and women with a rather low-budget, point-and-shoot camera in bold color, strikingly lit with a flash. His photographs embrace a sense of playfulness and humor, but also provoke feelings of danger and discomfort. The sexually provocative images explore gender and sexual identity in contemporary Chinese society. Food Issue is a zine featuring Hang’s photos about feet. “The word ‘food’ has similar pronunciation to the word ‘foot,’ which coincides with the feeding actions in the photos,” explains Same Paper Studio. Like a lively food fest intertwined with human bodies, this book presents 23 photographs with text printed alongside the images and four sheets of peel-off stickers — all wrapped in a piece of a blue tablecloth — celebrating Hang’s visual observation of liberated bodies.
Jiayi Liu is a photographer and collector of photography books. She is currently pursuing her MFA at the University of Pennsylvania.