INTERVIEWED BY 採訪 x CHEN MENG 陳檬
PHOTOGRAPHED BY 攝影 x ZHANG YIHONG 張一弘
DIRECTED BY 策劃 x WU YUYAO 吳玉耀
TRANSLATED BY 翻譯 x YU CHANG 于暢
ART.ZIP:Since when did you take to photography?
D:I have been fond of fine arts since I was little. I started to learn painting at the age of five and my dream had been to be able to study in academy of fine arts. So within seven years, I took part in the examination three times and was finally admitted to Xi’an Academy of Fines Arts with the highest professional course score throughout the five provinces of North West China. My first choice was oil painting, unfortunately, it did not recruit students that year. At that time, it was quite difficult to be admitted to a university. Therefore, after a lot of persuasion of the professor, I was reluctant to enrol in Graphic Design in Technological Design Department. Photography was one of our optional courses and I believe that both photography and painting belong to two-dimensional space and are thus interrelated.
ART.ZIP:What is your perspective on the oversea early photography works?
D:When photography was first invented, it was black and white. Laymen did not think of black-and-white photograph that much of excellence. However, professionals and the adept did think highly of the pictures taken in that era, because in 19th century many great masters in fine arts history, like De-gas, Courbet, Gericault, were very interested in photography, and they had a good command of sets, light, models, motion, props and costumes, unlike many mechanical photographers–the only thing they know was clicking.
ART.ZIP:What about Chinese photography? When did it start?
D:In late Qing Dynasty or even in the period of Republic of China(1912-1949), taking a picture in the photographic studio was a big event in one’s life. Generally, only celebrities had the chance to do so. They took it quite seriously, like participating in a ritual. Most of the portraits were dignified and of serious looks, hardly with any other facial expressions. Since the exposure time was really long, the model needed to remain still for quite a while. At that time, lighting equipments were unavailable and only natural light could be utilized. Therefore, photo studio was originally often set on the topmost storey where skylight could compensate the limited lighting provided by windows. That was why we often referred to photo studio as a “storied building”. Nowadays, people just enjoy taking pictures with their mobile phones whenever they like, whether they are skilfully professional or not.
ART.ZIP:How does photography attract you the most?
D:My interest in photography originates from my passion for fine arts. I like visual stuff.
ART.ZIP:Can we just presume that you love photography simply because you like painting?
D:I always wanted to become a painting artist when I was a child. Instead, things didn’t turn out the way you expected, I ended up studying design in the academy of fine arts and thereafter make a living by being a designer. Liu Bannong, who published the first book on the art of photography in China, once said it is not hard to learn the rudiments of photography, but you are probably just able to take it as a treat or favourite pastime.
ART.ZIP:Why don’t you switch to painting as your professional career as you love it so much？
D:I have spent too much time in design industry, which practically destroyed my dream of an artist. Painting requires persistent efforts and years of accumulation, which I failed to persevere and now unlikely to make it. Compared with painting, photography is easier and less time-consuming. It does not take tremendous amounts of efforts either. Honestly, I am not passionate about photography. I just do it for fun, which kills the ambitions.
ART.ZIP:Like painting, photography has many schools. What is your preference?
D:The school “Pictorial Photography”, which might be originated from France, seeks to mimic the beauty of painting. It is very similar to painting in many ways, even in brushwork, and it is my favourite style. Now, with the advanced technology, we could create pictorial effect through post production. Long Chinsan, a Taiwan darkroom expert, who is proficient in photo processing, now could be called a “post” pictorial photography master. However, the pictorial effect created by computer, especially those pictures processed by photographers with little aesthetic sense, is pretty monotonous and lack of individuality.
ART.ZIP:Do you prefer any particular subject in your photography?
D:I like taking photos of people. You know, unlike Chinese artists, many in the West prefer figure painting and hold scenery or still life painting in contempt. Most artists have various standards for beauty when they are looking for models. They value the peculiarities of the models. So do I. I like to take pictures for the plain and rustic farmers in my hometown, who just naturally own the strong characteristics. I find their wrinkles affable and unpretentious, maybe because this kind of natural bond to rural areas is in my blood. So I am not very keen on metropolis beauty. Sometimes I could be very stubborn about my preference for the old and primitive flavour.
ART.ZIP:People are shaped and influenced by the land where they were brought up. Actually many people live in the past, they like to extract essence from the past history rather than from the future.
D:Maybe my preference for visual stuff is related to my decades’ practice of painting . It has subconsciously affected my aesthetic appreciation .
ART.ZIP:There is a saying “painting filters reality, while photography copies reality”. What do you think of the reality brought by photography?
D:Some people say that art holds more reality than history does and I agree. People have to avoid certain things when recording history, while comparatively speaking, art has more freedom. I think different types of art are similar, they all filter and at the same time preserve the reality. For example, news photography, very similar to documentaries, emphasizes on the record of actual events, while pictorial photography stresses tableau or screen image. However, at the same time, both of them will reflect the photographer’s personal inclination, out of various reasons. Even news photography, the aim of which is to record reality truthfully, is largely affected by personal preference in terms of the chosen moment, figure, motion, light and atmosphere. One object or subject could be presented quite differently when it is captured in different moments, which will in turn convey different messages. We could say that reality is in each individual’s mind respectively.
ART.ZIP:In your opinion, how do the photography works of China differentiate from those of other countries?
D:From the single aspect of image, the distinction is similar to the difference between Chinese paintings and foreign paintings.
ART.ZIP:Do painting and photography have an impact on your design? Does your design style reflect from your photography works?
D:With no painting practice and persistent training, it is hard to produce any outstanding formative arts or plastic arts. Painting can be a simple structure of fine arts or plastic arts, and apparently is the most effective way for the training. Both photography and design are graphic art. The image and text of graphic design necessarily need a good aesthetic sense.
I suppose my photography works mirror some features of my graphic design. What you do is naturally affected by your personality or your cultural background, you just can not hide it. Just as the proverb goes, as you sow, so shall you reap.
ART.ZIP:Currently, modern media are booming. As a graphic print medium, photography might have its own limitations. Do you think it will be replaced by other media?
D:Take Chinese calligraphy as an example, neither Chinese people nor foreigners need it in terms of daily utility, but it survives nevertheless. Different from machines, art will be not substituted by newer or stronger version, because art cannot be categorized into superior art or inferior art, and there is no such thing as “art progress” or art evolution. Can you say photochrome is better than black-and white photography and the latter will be substituted? No. Prior to the invention of photography, painting plays an important role in recording actual events or visual images. However, after photography came into being, the status of painting is not swayed at all, because not only can painting record events, also painting is irreplaceable because it can deliver emotions. Therefore, no matter how media are developing, photography will be preserved for its own noticeable elements.
ART.ZIP: How do you cultivate yourself in photography?
Du:Though China has a large population and numerous photographers, it still lag behind many countries in terms of photography. Most people just like to take photos, but lack a basic understanding of the essence of photography. And professional photographers focus their attention on the brand or model of camera they use, or things like aperture and speed. It is just like the artists who only care about brush or paper they use. Actually, the tools are not the most important part and their function in improving your artistic skills is limited. Those who create cameras are not necessarily the good photographers. Art, such as painting and calligraphy, needs to be inherited. So does photography. You are a success if 90% of your works are influenced or inherited from your predecessors and only 10% of them are created by yourself. But if only 10% of your works are inspired or inherited from the predecessors and the rest 90% are created by yourself, you will fail. The hardest part is how to learn the 90%.