Presence and Representation

By Chen Weixing

As coming the end of the first decade of the 21st century, it could be undoubtedly seen that in people’s different expressions exist a reality full of dynamic and chaos: mondialisation, economic globalization, synchronism of information and time, more and more mobility of human being, internet revolution, post-cold war ambiance, inter-dependence, tempo-spatial overlapping and compression, globalism diffuse of symbolic appropriation, cultural and religious conflicts, crisis management and coordinated globalization., etc. In all these changes, China plays a role more and more important because of the tempo-spatial broadness of its modernization project. The consecration of this role attributes to its large economic potential, and meanwhile in the cultural observation it also offers a new perspective which will continuously produce new visual texts. 

The history of modernization is that of visual modernity, which penetrates the variety of social practices in our daily lives. As the most direct and effective visual tool, photography not only tends to meet the real expectations of people but also has become communication terminals more and more socialized in the continuous pursuit of reality. As terminal, the photography stores the history of our lives as well as our imagination of reality and thereby forms the references for the self-identity which the human being is in search for. References with two-level significances: firstly, they are the author’s signified to represent his/her self and objects exist in tempo-spatial dimension; secondly, they serve as the medium through which the author aspires to an “absolute presence”. Objects’ representation is a transitory state and the presence to be represented will expose the signified differences by its conspiring or negotiating with the audiences

It seems clear that the historical common sense and the life experiences of ordinary people usually rest on the photographic presentation and become the principal channel through which we accede to an inexperienced reality. To take a concrete hold on society, people need to be exposed to the photos which present ordinary news events or to the visual presentation of breaking news. To help in the shaping of public opinion and of meaningful social relations, the portraits of significant individuals playing a role in society reproduced in the press are recommended as exemplary references within social groups. In this broad representation of the rich relationship between mankind and its social environment, people’s gestures and behaviors in daily life configure the aura of life style. For the framed object, its different rhythmic state and transitory un-/consciousness would supply a perfect convergence moment between subject and object.   The construction and orientation of dialogue relationship between Man and Nature gradually becomes important factors in the self-development of human being.

We believe that photography — particularly of a journalistic nature — not only reproduces the reality in terms of sensitive presence and thereby offers a direct and definite answer to characters, things and relations, but also implies by its content and form the direction to find the answer: author’s intentions, expectations or doubts. Moments decisive inside and continuous outside the picture will form the subjective-and-objective conditions in which we decode the photos of a journalistic nature. 

If photography can be defined both as a textbook and as a reference system, what is it there that we can learn from photographs? As far as satisfaction in decoding of the grand narratives, we wonder whether or not the historical nuance even its deceit can be observed in the press photography; as far as interpretation of the dynamic mechanism and the state of anxiety in today’s every day life, whether or not we can take a hold on the real orientation in the reality-framing of photographic works; When different kinds of ethical crises such as nationality, conflict, gender, language, generation gap, territory, consumption, ecology, are encountered, whether or not we can not only ponder over the survival’s representation offered by photographic works but think about the possibility of how to change the reality.

Here, we propose three themes for the forthcoming fifth edition of the Lianzhou International Photo Festival (December 5-10, 2009)

The history’s nuance: After the end of grand narrative, people’s re-examination of the history can get new inspiration from its details offered by photographic works. It is through the photographic suggestion that we can finally offer a visual fulcrum to an ever-changing age and society. After all, the historical cartography of a nation-state is always fully and delicately presented with the presence offered by the photography. This requires a method described as “to start from scratch” and checks the history’s texture in the photography archives. Without the important historical details suggested by photos, our modality to observe the world will be unavoidably fixed in expression. 

The reality’s expression: How the photographic frame and content shape the destiny of our contemporaries; How are they able to express the most inner feelings of people, and mirror their deepest thoughts; and how do they describe the transformation of our social background in relation to all our activities ? As witness of social transformation, today’s photographic creativity lies in a paradigm shift in terms of media discourse— i.e. a shift from power discourse to that of identity; a shift from discourse of governing others to that governing ourselves. Photography, hence, is blurring the distinction between our external and inner worlds, between spaces public and private as well as technical and humanist. Photography helps us to clarify the themes of times, to scan the social totem and individual portraits and to find the reproducing patterns of thick description for our practical strategies for survival.

 The survival’s representation: Our existence faces two major challenges. The first one is the popularization of new media. Will the instantaneity and ubiquitous connectivity provided by new media can change the life-related assumptions and expectations; even make a reconstruction of social relations? Expectations and shudders co-exist when confronting the advancements of the new media. The second challenge is defined by the substitution of old values for new ones, such as the decline of patience and tolerance and the emergence of relations of trust  and that of moral obligation extending beyond our very own physical spaces. As a means that allows to link time and space, journalistic photography is bound to propose topics and references to the new public spheres outside the traditional social structure. Through all these exposed photographic works, it is reasonable for us to expect that the subjectivity of imagery and the “globality” of participation could make a very meaningful contribution in setting new signposts for our contemporary cosmopolitan culture.