Chinese women in photography: from recorded to recorders

0 Comment(s)Print E-mail Xinhua News Agency, September 25, 2011
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In 1935, Jiang Youquan, one of the very few female doctors in China then, cured a rural woman surnamed Huang who'd suffered for 32 years from ascites.

A picture that was taken of the therapeutic process has become an eye-catching exhibit of an old-photo show during an ongoing international photography festival in the ancient city of Pingyao in northern Shanxi Province.

Wang Qiuhang, a curator from the city of Hangzhou in eastern Zhejiang Province, is displaying his collection of 100 photos taken between 1860 and 1949 featuring Chinese women at the seven-day Pingyao International Photography Festival (PIP).

"I have been collecting pictures not of female celebrities, but of ordinary women, many of whom remain anonymous to me," Wang said.

With Chinese and English captions, the photos Wang has selected to display at the PIP tell stories, for instance, of aged mothers, children with bound feet, girls in an orphanage, prostitutes, female college students and women playing harmoniums.

When photography was first introduced into the country in the mid-19th century, Chinese people were terrified of being photographed, believing their souls would be taken away with the clicking of the shutter, Wang said.

"In the earliest pictures of Chinese women, smiles were barely seen and their faces were often stiff," Wang said.

As women in the country familiarized themselves with photographs, they learned to smile and pose in front of a camera, but their role as the recorded did not change until 1930 when Lang Jingshan, China's first photojournalist, offered a photography course in an all-girls high school in Shanghai.

"Thereafter, Chinese women started to record the world with a camera," Wang said.

Over the years, female photographers have gained a footing in China's photographic circle.

This year's PIP, 11th of its kind, has a record high number of female photographers registered, whose works account for more than 20 percent of the total of some 20,000 photos displayed, according to the PIP's art director Zhang Guotian.

"Many of the photos are of very high artistic standards," Zhang said.

"Female photographers are able to cover a wide range of subjects as males do, and yet perceive and present them in a more exquisite way," said Guo Cheng, who quit her job in a bank and started pursuing a new career as a photographer and curator in 2005.

Citing such works as one by American photojournalist Stephanie Sinclair of female circumcisions in Indonesia, Wang Qiuhang said, "We are seeing more of the world through the lens of female photographers."

Female photographers have made undeniable accomplishments, said Lu Jingbo, secretary-general of the Chinese Women Photographers Association, a state-level organization, at the mention of Huang Wen and Ju Yang, two female Chinese photographers who have been elected to be judges for the World Press Photo Contest more than once.

The association, with around 3,000 members nationwide, is exhibiting a total of 126 pictures taken by 93 members during its first time at the PIP, according to Lv.

It also set up a photographic base in Pingyao during the festival,

which will provide its members with discounted or free tickets to the ancient architectural complex in and surrounding this walled city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1997, said Lv.

Since it was founded in 1995, the association has built similar bases in the provinces of Shandong, Jiangsu, Henan and Yunnan, and activities there have helped foster interest of local women in photography and thus enlarged its membership, she added.

The growing number of female photographers and their fine works have enriched and invigorated the PIP, said Zhang Guotian.

"At a proper time, the PIP will feature solo shows in honor of a particular female photographer, and meanwhile in honor of Chinese women on the whole," Zhang said.

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