The status of the “photobook”—a book, with or without text, where the primary message is carried by photographs—has undergone a major reappraisal during the past decade. Produced in a wide range countries and contexts for over a century, photobooks have added enormously to our understanding of photography and its social and cultural importance. Although China boasts a fascinating history of photobook publishing, its importance in this larger global history has not been adequately recognized; this exhibition brings to light the richness and diversity of this heritage.
“The Chinese Photobook” is based on a collection compiled by renowned British photographer Martin Parr and the Beijing- and London-based Dutch photographer team WassinkLundgren. Inspired initially by Parr’s interest in propaganda and Socialist Realism, and part of his ongoing research into the history of the photobook the world, the China collection quickly expanded, forming the basis for a major research project and book published in 2015 by Aperture and the China Photographic Publishing House.
This exhibition in six chapters spans from key volumes published as early as 1900 through contemporary volumes by emerging Chinese photographers, presented in vitrines, as enlargements, in videos, and for perusal in an interactive library. While the form, content, and authorial perspective of these Chinese photobooks vary widely, together they offer a rich and multifaceted perspective on the complicated history of modern China.