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Documenting China

Documenting China Exhibit Response
Rob Lyksett


There are few mediums that have the same power to move and inspire the viewer as much as photography. Almost everyone can relate directly to photography; its power lies particularly in its ability to show parts of the world that would otherwise be difficult to access, showing foreign places, the people who live there, and the human condition in places we would perhaps not see otherwise. Documenting China accomplishes this beautifully, showing a changing world through the eyes of the camera; a world that we can experience through the lens.

Documenting China shows the rapidly changing society in modern China, quickly growing into a heavily industrialized nation and creating an interplay between the “old’ world and the “new? world. China is an important area of the world with a lot of change occurring in the modern day, and exhibits like this allow us to experience the truth of modern Chinese life and almost to become a small part of that change; at least to begin understanding it.
The large photos in the main part of the exhibit, such as those by Jiang Jian, were of particular interest to me. They show, in plain documentary-style photography, the variety of people and change now evident in modern China. For example, photos like Li Shucai, His Wife, and Grandson show an image with motorcycles and a very Western-feeling background. Even with this, images such as the poster of Mao in the background carry implications of the Eastern world as well. In Zhing Qunzi and Her Two Daughters we are given an image of a very different China, one that is smaller and rural with a very agrarian background. Even here, evidence of western mentality is still pervasive, particularly in the Christian calendars covering the walls. Through evidence from these photographs, the influence of western culture seems to be growing very strong in China. Photos like Li Qiaohui and His Wife and Untitled no.5, Untitled no.7(I’m afraid I did not record the name of the photographer) show a China that is peppered with Caucasian models, proving yet another infusion of Western and Eastern culture.
This is an excellent exhibit because of its cultural effects; it allows us to see a part of the world and expose things that many of us, as Americans, may not ever see in person. This is the importance of photography.