Concept for Seeing The Light
Preface of Dong Dong's book Black and White Photographs·
Right before Dong Dong went to the Krasnodar Museum of Contemporary Art to attend the PHOTOVISA International Festival of Photography in Russia, he told me to write a preface for his forthcoming new book. His tone was casual, but sincere and affirmative, as if a subordinate gives a command directly to his superior. Probably he was quite certain: if he just asked me to write it I would never do it, because a painter writes preface for a photographer is like having a finger in every pie.
Dong Dong is a modest, rigorous, delicate and orderly man. He is considerate to others from the bottom of his heart in a way of steady, accurate and relentless. Both of his IQ and EQ are not low. For example: It is said that he had been studying abroad for eight years and made a name for himself, but from the day we knew each other and for so many year, I never heard he spoke English. Not a single word has ever leaped from his mouth, as if he would rather die than speak it. So I began to doubt whether he can speak English. Maybe just like me, what he can say is only "yes", "no", and "good", and if cornered, a "very" before "good" at most. Until in the first half of this year, we met in USA. He was going to attend the famous International Biennial of Photography FOTOFEST in Houston. We went into a random restaurant beside the street. From the owner of the restaurant to waiters, he seemed knowing everyone there. The communication between them was so easy and fluent that I could not help to ask him what his English level is. He answered: apart from a good quarrel with native English speakers, because it would be too much various dialects, slangs and new popular words involved, anything else is no problem.
It is known to the world that photography is a special art discipline but not an independent art form. However, photography has a great influence on various art forms, especially painting. During the first industrial revolution in Europe, accompanied with the emergence of flush toilet, spinning machine, boiler, steam engine, automobile and telephone, daguerreotype was invented as well. The inventor and French painter Daguerre did not expect that it would go beyond facilitating polices' arresting, young people's matchmaking, and curing lovers' lovesickness, to threaten painters' livelihood. Their job was taken by the photo studios. Painter Delaroche even gave a desperate sigh: from today, painting is dead. Writer Alexandre Dumas and Victor Marie Hugo had both been photographed. Daguerre even used hot air balloon to take pictures of the whole Paris, which is impossible for painters to do it in a short time.
There were many art schools in the history of photography over the past two centuries, such as Photography of Paintism, Impressionist Photography, Realistic Photography, Naturalism Photography, Pure Photography, New Materialism Photography, Surrealism Photography, Abstract Photography, Candid Photography, Dada Photography, Subjectivism Photography (also known as Post-War Photography). All these schools were basically derived from painting or derivative of painting, except for Candid Photography. Candid Photography brought forward the idea that photography should keep distance from painting as far as possible so that painters could not imitate. The representative photographer is French photographer Cartier Bresson whom Chinese people are most familiar with. In the contrast, painters had no choice but to create Cubism, so that photographers could not imitate. The representative painter is Spanish painter Picasso whom Chinese people are most familiar with. Before that photography had already been used repeatedly in the classical painting and the early impressionist painting. For example, when Ingre painted his famous oil painting Spring, he let the model take picture in Daguerre's photo studio first, and then painted the painting according to the photo, although not long ago Ingre himself had strongly urged the government to prohibit photography industry. Manet, Degas, Monet were all enthusiasts and beneficiaries of photography. The No.1 artist of today's art world German artist Richter has made the most of photography, and created a new aesthetic approach in the aesthetic categories.
Artistic creation depends on talent, delicate observation and reflection. It is a test of your feelings and judgments. Acquired efforts can only make you know all kinds of equipments, memorize how to use aperture, and burn money to renew equipment as an enthusiast. And then finally you will become an excellent equipment keeper.
No matter in what style and form an artwork is presented, judging whether an artwork or an artist is excellent will come down to the following three aspects: first, its creation idea; second, its techniques; third, its materials. That is what we often say, what to shoot, how to shoot, and what to shoot with. If anyone can have a breakthrough in these three aspects, he or she can be called a master. First of all, whether the creation idea has accurately recorded the times, whether the idea is original, and whether it can pass through the recognition of value judgment. According to the aesthetic judgments, from the moment an artwork is presented in front of people, it will be determined by factual judgment, taste judgment and value judgment. The factual judgment refers to the authenticity and rationality of the event described in the artwork. The taste judgment refers to being in accord with ordinary viewers' taste. The value judgment refers to evaluate the significance and value of an artwork from the perspective of aesthetics, morality and history, and it should reflect the human being's ultimate ideal. Secondly, whether the technique is innovative, original, and regarded as reasonable and unique. Thirdly, whether there is a breakthrough in the use of materials, while it's not making a fuss, hard to believe, or kicking out a cloud of dust.
When we look back the history of modern Chinese photography, there are two masters had a great influence in China. One is Cartier Bresson, the other is Ansel Adams. In 1985, as a legendary person in Chinese photography world, Ansel Adams held his solo exhibition successfully in the National Art Museum of China, and he became the first western gurus who brought original artworks to China. With admiration, the Chinese photographers recognized the charm of zone system.
Dong Dong's works was influenced by Adams, but he has successfully localized it and made it possess the oriental aesthetic characteristics. The photos he took in Utah in USA and Anhui in China can be seen as examples.
Most of Dong Dong's works are landscapes. Just like painting, comparing to figure painting, landscape painting is somewhat passive, because the narrative subject itself does not actively transmit any information, while it all depends upon how the creator express it. The ancients said: 'Learning it from outside nature, getting it from inner mind.' The nature is the natural world, and the inner mind is your understanding of the natural world. Many of Dong Dong's works are his personal understanding of the natural world. Just as he said: 'I always believe that the natural landscapes between heaven and earth are telling stories to people in many ways. In the nature, every river and every mountain have their own personalities, and the interpretation of their personalities could be the motive force to create a style of artistic landscape photography. Looking at our landscape culture from ancient times to the present, we can see how the ancients closely connected the value of their spirits with the natural scenery.' And because of this, Adams successful shot a number of classic landscape photographs, and Fan Kuan, Guo Xi successfully painted the Travelers among Mountains and Streams and Early Spring as the peak of Chinese landscape paintings.
Dong Dong makes the most of the language of photography. His language is precise, delicate and sophisticated. Without being scrappy or touchy-feely, his works still has a strong sense of the times, while a lot of his contemporaries have difficulty to achieve it.
When people are enjoying artworks, they always hope to see more through the work. Their requirement is reasonable. What's irrational is that some works leave nothing behind after you watch them. Through Dong Dong's works, we can see all the elements a photo should have as an artwork, and in addition to it, a cognition of the objective world that only photography can bring up to us.