Photography has become a staple of our existence as cell phone cameras become the norm. Some snobbish artists have commented that today's access to equipment is creating a superfluity of bad art. But access to equipment doesn't make for more bad art; it just makes for more art.
The ability of everyday people to shoot photos on a whim brings art appreciation closer to our lives, and broadens art audiences across the world.
The City of Fremantle Festival of Photography (FotoFreo) is an Australian biannual photography festival. In 2010, the festival attracted 90,000 visitors, many of whom were from overseas. The festival is presently taking place, and will wrap up mid-April.
This year the festival's FutureGen project takes off, where work by Chinese and Australian photography students will be displayed by FotoFreo, and by China's Pingyao Photography Festival. A total of 57 Chinese universities are involved in this program, and two Chinese students (Wang Chow and Ning Ziran) and curator Cui Jun are representing China in person.
Acclaimed British photographer Martin Parr will have new work shown at the FotoFreo, and he will also review the portfolios of Wang and Ning. Parr is best known for his intimate but less than flattering portraits of British suburbia.
Ning Ziran (Chloe) doesn't seem nervous about Parr reviewing her work. Her thematic focus and technique are firmly established in her mind. The Shanghai Normal University graduate made the unique choice of using infrared film to capture her subjects. Infrared film captures light that isn't visible to the naked eye, allowing Ning to explore her culture in a fresh way.
"My feeling is that infrared photographs are dreamy and a little surreal. I think this is a good method to visualize my uncentered feelings about Chinese history." Infrared photos are black and white, with the ability to throw plant foliage into a crystalline white. Her photos are indeed "dreamy and a little surreal," starkly portraying ancient temples in an unsettling way. She uses her camera to freeze unreal moments, allowing us to reassess our own modern understandings of a changing Chinese culture.
Wang Chao is a Xi'an Academy of Fine Arts graduate who is also an appropriate representative for China. His prize-winning photos tell the stories of Chinese Muslims and the harsh climate they live in in the region of Xihaigu. The photos Wang uses to portray their situation range from documentary realism to conceptual abstractions, but his work is best characterized by emotive portraits.
One feels a disturbing intimacy with Wang's subjects, their eyes gaze into the camera, a piercing focus held distinct from the rich silent backdrops which we hesitate to enter.
Although Ning and Wang's peers may think they are crazy to study photography abroad, Wang and Ning are enjoying their opportunity to be showcased in an international forum, equally appreciating the other works on display. "Scenes from everyday life are randomly captured, creating a sense of intimacy," commented Wang.
Ning appreciated the opportunity to make connections at the festival. "I think the cooperation between FotoFreo and Pingyao International Photography Festival gives both Chinese and Australian students a chance to see what is happening around the world. And to make new friends as well. Photography should be an international thing."