A good way to rate locations is to gauge how likely it is that something randomly wonderful will occur on any given day. Downstairs from the Grand Hyatt in Beijing is a very westernized mall, the Oriental Plaza. While cutting through it for an air-conditioned shortcut, I found in a clutch a Sony store, and Apple store, and an Epson store, adjoining one of Epson’s epSite galleries (try using http://www.worldlingo.com/wl/translate to translate from Simplified Chinese). I’d embarrassingly failed to find the epSite in Tokyo a few days before (though supposedly it was next door to my hotel), and hadn’t even tried to find the one in Shanghai — and now here was their newest, so handy I almost tripped over it.
Inside the gallery, almost empty save for the staff, was a collection of magnificent Jiang Jian prints.
Jiang Jian’s photos have already reached America, at least some of them showed up at Boston’s Bates College in the spring. He is director of the photo program at Henan Institute of Art, Zhengzhou. Some examples are at this Chinese site.
The photos themselves are environmental portraits, shot large and detailed and printed luxuriously by Epson’s big machines (the gallery, is, after all, a sales space — one of the printers was parked in a corner). Jiang Jian has travelled through his regional countryside, photographing the poorest of farmers and their families in their homes. They are posed, shown no doubt as they themselves would like to appear, with their favorite goods in their favorite corner of home — the worn Mao figurines, the photos carefully torn from each month of a calendar and pasted to the walls, the newspaper clippings and car racing posters. A bit like some mad combination of Bill Owens Suburbia with Bee’s meticulous post-soviet interiors, made possible by the relentless detail of the photos. The scale gives the subjects substance and immediacy — it’s not possible to dismiss these people as simply “poor” or “charming” or any other convenient social catchall. Each person demands their own identity, and their environments each tell a detailed and captivating personal story. This is fantastic work and one has to wonder if it will reach a wider audience than the priveleged few in central Beijing, circa 2004.
The show will be gone in another week and a half: here’s a crude tweaked machine translation of the description from Epson’s site, which does not remotely do the show justice.
The Master: Jiang Jian Photographs How to understand the Chinese folk society. The traditional culture, as well as the Confucianist culture and politics, ideology from China's revolution, with what theory and method, can we perform the accurate description in what kind of degree? This is a question which many people face. "Master's" unique technique has inspired us. Jiang Jian looks at "the vital significance in the life space," his subjects standing or seated, his camera recording around them all details. He lets the detail demonstrate the people farmer's real life quality, and by colorful vulgar color performance. Strengthened the area south of Yellow River farmer's own beautiful interest. At the same time, also has exhibited the legitimate ideology, the present age mass culture and the traditional culture coexisting. The rubber is living in the spatial realistic landscape in the farmer. At the same time, we also may act according to his picture to see to, the urbanized advancement also may be one kind of city life consciousness, proliferating to the countryside and see this process. In other words, the so-called urbanized advancement, actually by no means unique from Countryside advancement and does not only radiate the city ideology from the city to the countryside. Watcheing the way one idea advances through stylization, Jiang Jian shows what the people leave behind even as they progress. The Chinese area farmer survives.
Thank you, Jiang Jian, for seeing this survival so vividly.