The Alchemy of Shadows
, Lianzhou International Photo Festival (LIPF) 2007
JIANG Pengyi 蒋鹏奕
SHI Qing 石青
YANG Fudong 杨福东
The Alchemy of Shadows
The ancient Chinese character for 'shadow' contains the ideogram for 'day' and within transformation of the light of day into dark shadows one can see a miniature illustration of the birth of and interconnectedness between the ancient Chinese philosophical concepts of substance and vacuity, being and nothingness. In Western languages, the term 'shadow' often refers to the unreal, the supernatural, gloom and other negative things. The term alchemy, the medieval school of philosophical and experimental inquiry into the nature of things and forerunner of modern chemistry, is commonly used today in reference to a process through which thing are turned beyond the ordinary. The Alchemy of Shadows will take us back to the 1830s, to the birth of photography when photographers first used chemicals to develop and preserve images for the renewed amazement of the viewer. In an image-saturated era such as ours, the sense of pure bewilderment before an image, an entire world produced out of the flash convergence of space and time, has been lost.
The Alchemy of Shadows will also evoke the genius and talent required by art photography: the mastery of time and atmosphere, the ability to turn the ordinary into the miraculous, a gift for transcending time and space in the blink of an eye, and the expertise to sculpt the likeliness of a world. In the lens of the contemporary photographer, this talent takes the form of an impulse to create ever more possible worlds out of the nuances of light and shadow.
Photography is an event in the continuity of the world, not a meaningless moment of nothing. It is not the solidification of decisive moments because it does not intend to present to us a segment of linear time. Nor is its meaning limited to being a connector between consecutive moments along the time axis. Photography is a container of time. What it contains and conceals is a lost moment of life. Photography seals moments of time, and fixes them in images in order to make them permanent – from a moment to permanence. Because of this dramatic transformation, people ignore the continuity of time in the course of recording, exposing and presenting images. This is a delay between the parallel worlds of image and reality, in which the passage of time is forgotten.
Photography takes place within the duration of time, and occurs in the mysterious realms of our time-based world as well. As an attempt to live up literally to its name, i.e. 'writing with light', and with the help of photographic memory, photography strives to stage a 'play of shadows', a spectacle of silhouettes begot of light, in the theater of time, revealing the shape of time for all to see. That is the magic of The Alchemy of Shadows.
Photography as Experience
'The debate rests mostly in the esthetic disagreement of photography as a form of art, whereas the sociological notion of the photographic art receives little attention.' Both worlds, artistic and photographic, have given Benjamin's argument enough thought to form a convincing response. Of course, our relationship to photography cannot be summarized in one sentence. In our ordinary experience, photography is a replacement of reality, a reality that is replaced. It helps us retrieve knowledge and controls our perception of reality; it documents major events and serves as a memento of daily life; it is a collective form of image-making behavior and is a part of social ritual. It is a witness of family histories, a mold for individual and collective memories, and a building block of the iconography of history.
Since the day of its invention, photography has spilled beyond the boundaries of the definition of art. LIPF 2007 will examine the significance of photography beyond the aesthetic, focusing on 'photography as experience'. Photography will not be considered merely as the art of photography, nor will it be analyzed as a form of fine art or an artistic medium. We will explore how photography alters our experience of reality as a visual-perceptual mechanism. Therefore, the experience of photography will strikingly demonstrate the concept of 'photography we live by', with focus on the photography as the expression of the quotidian, the ideology behind photography, existentialism in photography and its anthropological implications.
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