SNAPSHOT: Shen Wei

Self Portrait, © Shen Wei

By Anna Carnick

For this week’s SNAPSHOT, we spoke with New York-based artist Shen Wei. Born and raised in Shanghai, Wei’s photographs-primarily still lifes and nude portraits-offer the viewer a glimpse into very private, still moments, which seem to stand in direct contrast to the larger, ever-changing exterior world. Wei was named one of the fifteen “new generation of photo pioneers” by American Photo in 2007, and was also part of PDN’s annual “30 New and Emerging Photographers to Watch” list in 2008.

Wei’s first monograph, the dreamlike Chinese Sentiment, was published by Charles Lane Press earlier this year. The collection is an intimate exploration of the human impact of China’s arrival as a superpower, and features an introduction by Peter Hessler, staff writer and former Beijing correspondent for The New Yorker. It was guest-edited by Aperture book publisher Lesley A. Martin.

This summer, Wei is included in the Museum of the City of New York’s Moveable Feast: Fresh Produce and the NYC Green Carts Program. This group exhibition on view through September 5 is co-curated by Aperture editor Denise Wolff and documents the ongoing Green Cart Initiative, which placed 1000 mobile food carts offering fresh fruit and vegetables throughout the five boroughs. The exhibition was presented by Aperture and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.

Wei spoke with Aperture’s web-editor, Anna Carnick.

AC: What is your idea of happiness?
SW: To have the freedom to do what I want.

How do you define beauty?
The smell of home and my dog.

What do you see as your greatest achievement as an artist so far?
My latest self-portrait project, I Miss You Already.  It took me so many years of struggle to finally breakthrough my shell to be completely free and open and willing.

Your greatest personal achievement?
Convincing my strict Chinese parents on numerous difficult issues throughout my life.

If you weren’t a photographer, what would you be?

Probably something musical, a violinist or a dancer.

Your favorite artist, of any genre?
Where should I start?  I have so many.  Recently I have been fascinated by the work of French filmmaker Jacques Tati.

Your favorite photograph?
It has to be Diane Arbus’s Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962.  I had known nothing about photography before I moved to U.S.  The first photo book I ever owned was Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph.  I absolutely love that photo when I see it.  It kind of reminds me of myself as a boy in a way.

Your favorite emerging photographer?
I have been a follower of another Shanghai-born photographer, Yijun Liao.  Her current work is a series of self-portraits with her Japanese lover, which is very mysterious, seductive, and intriguing.

Your current soundtrack?
I love French Chanson, Serge Gainsbourg, Patrick Bruel, Bénabar, Marc Lavoine. . .

The last book (photo or other) you really enjoyed?
The Revenge of Thomas Eakins by Sidney D. Kirkpatrick.

Name a person – living or dead – you’d really like to meet.
A Chinese poet from the Dang Dynasty, Li Bai.

What qualities do you appreciate most in friends?
Honesty.

Your favorite motto?
From caring comes courage. – Lao Tzu