My Camera and I

Curatorial Theme/ By Li Xianting

The seemingly innocuous statement “my camera and I” might sound passé in the digital age, but it is precisely because of this that we feel the need to revisit our first person relationship with the camera in this year’s edition of the Lianzhou International Photography Festival (LIPF). The theme “My Camera and I” is meant to reemphasize the conscious being operating the camera, the individual possessing a set of opinions and beliefs and capable of independent thought that articulates a unique statement in a personal photographic language.

Specificity of language and uniqueness of vision of a photographer’s work are partially attributable to the camera, and its devices—lens, focus, exposure, etc.—circumscribe the rendering of the subject as much as they make it possible. Digital technology has revolutionized photography by succeeding in retouching, sampling and blending the photographic image, leaving no field of photography, including documentary photography, untouched, and reviving photography as a popular medium of contemporary art. By reaffirming the significance of “my camera and I”, we wish not to object to the use of new technology in the practice of photography, rather we hope to make a statement against the appropriation of photography by the Internet, advertising and other image media, which misrepresent the reality photography seeks to confront us with. As contemporary art blurs the line between various art forms and photography becomes a popular medium of contemporary art, we want to put the “I” that presses the shutter back in focus for a moment, and examine its unique relationship to the “fleeting reality”, for no other medium makes as beautiful a statement as photography—that of bearing witness to the wondrous thing that is life. By focusing on “My Camera and I”, we set aside the digital sampling, staging, blending and doctoring of the photographic image and leave it to be judged within the realm of contemporary art, and remind ourselves that the main source of photographic material comes from the relationship between the camera and real life.  

“My Camera and I” takes us back to the basics of photography keeping in mind that something new can be born out of the old—a concept that isn’t foreign to LIPF’s host city Lianzhou. During the Tang Dynasty (618-907) the remote southern region was a home-in-exile for banished officials and literati, including mandarin, poet and essayist Han Yu, poet Liu Zongyuan and poet, philosopher and essayist Liu Yuxi. The domestic instability and foreign aggression of the turbulent Late Tang inspired Han Yu, Liu Zongyuan and other the literati to dispose of the florid and parallel writing style favored since the Six Dynasties (220-589) and propose a revival of pre-Han prose. While building on tradition, the “Classical Prose Movement” they spearheaded was to advocate creativity and champion a style that lay out current issues and provided cutting analysis of social ills in a plain language that flowed freely from the characters it used. In this sense, the theme “My Camera and I” is not only intended to assert a return our relationship to the device, but also to reaffirm the importance of the independent viewpoint and revisit the camera’s ability to bear witness to and confront us with reality, current events and emotions.