Tag Archives: Realities

Root of the Nation: Zhang Kechun Photographs China’s Yellow River

As a boy, he read about the mythic river. As a man, he went to find its source. Chengdu-based photographer Zhang Kechun has spent much of the last two years on the banks the Yellow River, the waterway considered both the cradle of Chinese civilization and, when it breaks its banks, its curse. “I wanted to photograph the river respectfully,” said Zhang. “It represents the root of the nation.”

Zhang’s project has the feel of a pilgrimage. He travels on a fold-up bicycle, following the river’s silted water from the coastal flats of Shandong, west, to the mountains of Qinghai. He journeys for a month at a time, lugging a large format Linhof camera, a tripod and just enough film. Sometimes, he says, he went a week without taking a picture. “I wanted to take my time,” he said,  ”to slow down and experience every second of the moment.”

His patient labor paid off. The work is intimate and expansive, capturing quiet moments under vast, gray skies. People swim. Buildings rise. Life plays out against a dateless haze. “I choose cloudy, gloomy days to photograph and I overexpose my photos,” Zhang explained. This, he said, “adds a soft and gentle touch,” giving each frame an otherworldly feel. This ethereal stillness quiets the quotidian realities of the river: movement, pollution, noise.

Zhang says he did not set out to document environmental destruction — others have done that. But China’s headlong rush to develop has scarred the country’s land, air and water, and the mighty Yellow River is no exception. ”I started off wanting to photograph my ideal of the river, but I kept running into pollution,” he said. “I realized that I couldn’t run away from it, and that I didn’t need to run away from it.”

Though the lunar tones and low horizons feel foreboding, Zhang insists the project carries a message of hope. There is a reason all the people in his pictures look tiny: ”The power of humans is nothing compared to the power of nature, even when we try to change it.” Century upon century, the river runs.

Zhang Kechun is a Chengdu-based photographer with the MoST agency. 

Emily Rauhala is an Associate Editor at TIMEAdditional reporting and translation from Regina Wang.

Guillaume Grasset: California Dreamin’

Imagine arriving in Los Angeles at the age of 20, fresh off the plane from a childhood in Paris and looking to break into the photo world, packing a suitcase full of visual references that come from the created realities of Hollywood.  Guillaume Grasset did just that, and turned his camera onto a state capturing a smorgasbord of images that are far from those on the flickering screen. Guillaume has just opened California Dreamin’ at the Carte Blanche Gallery in San Francisco, an exhibition that will run through November 28th.
Guillaume cut his photographic teeth working with Herb Ritts, LaChapelle, Lindbergh, Steven Klein, Craig Mc Dean, Sante
d’Orazio, Michel Addi on fashion stories for Vogue, and François-Marie
Banier on portraits for New York Times. In 2000, he returned to Paris to start his own practice and now works in all areas of the photo arena.  The one thing that stays consistent is his focus on all things California.
Images From California Dreamin’


Sylvain Granjon

Sylvain Granjon has just opened an exhibition at Galeria Tagomago that will travel to both gallery locations in Barcelona and Paris. The exhibit runs throught October 20th in Barcelona and moves to Paris from November 15th-18th.

Sylvain is a French artist who comes from the world of the circus and entertainment. After more than 20 years performing across the world in a number of street theater festivals, Sylvain now creates his magic with a camera, specializing in portraits and constructed realities. I am featuring a series of his daughter, Douce Amère, that is simply charming in it’s exploration of portraiture, humor, and appreciation for childish things.


I come from the entertainment world. I have been an entertainer for 20 years. I would say I’m an eccentric more than a clown.

This artificial world has been mine for all that time.
When I photograph my daughter, I photograph myself.
Her direct look has shaken my adult certainties. What I see in her eyes challenges me, as a grown child, as a father…
She seems to be asking me : “What have you become?”
When I portray my daughter there is a seriousness at odds 
with her young age.
I try to evoke the adult’s desperate quest for the mythical image of his own childhood; the source of all our emotions.
Sylvain Granjon, 2012

Justin Kaneps

Justin Kaneps may be at the starting line of his photography career, having just received his BFA from The Art Institute in Boston, but he is in no way a beginner.  He embodies those great qualities that makes a photographer succeed: curiosity, affability, compassion, and intelligence.  He is an involved photographer, looking for the next opportunity, the next adventure, and each new door that opens allows for another layer of knowledge.  Justin has been exhibiting in the Boston area and it doesn’t hurt that he also holds an Eagle Scout Award, something that seems perfectly appropriate to his person.
I am featuring work from Justin’s in-progress project, In Our Veins, that explores a natural resource: coal, and it’s affects on the communities that surround it’s production.
Images from In Our Veins

The interdependency between our American coal industry and its surrounding communities is deep and complex. While embracing the realities and myths surrounding coal production revel the socioeconomic impact on Appalachian communities that mine it. Pointing out the realities of a rural environment in constant transition, my work explores coal as a problematic but longstanding staple in Appalachian culture and economy.


In spite of awareness about the impact of coal, some know little about the lives of those who produce it and live in the effects. With profound compassion and respect I provide some insight into their world. I explore the evidence of an American ideological past and the nostalgia that exists within the way of life and traditions encompassing coal. An underlying connection exists to my subjects through the air we breathe and the resources we take from the land.


March Madness and April Fools: Strange but True Photos

April 1—or April Fool’s Day—is traditionally a time for harmless pranks and practical jokes. It is a day when many will be taken in by good-natured mischief, whether tricked by the most elaborate or the simplest of deceptions. In the spirit of tomfoolery and fabrications, LightBox presents a selection images that show some of the more surreal and bizarre realities of the world around us, all photographed during the mad month of March.
From costumed crime fighters to giant paper airplanes and facial-massaging snails, these photos prove that truth can be more astounding than fiction. Happy April Fool’s Day!

Paolo Ventura: The Funeral of the Anarchist

“Invented worlds” or “ir-realities” are what Paolo Ventura calls the elaborately constructed dioramas that fill the frame of his brooding, dream-like photographs. The Italian-born artist, of the Aperture monograph Winter Stories (Fall 2009), has a new exhibition The Future of the Anarchist opening Saturday, February 25, 2012 at Obsolete Gallery in Venice, CA showcasing his fantastical, moody and meticulously staged images.

In the clip above from 2009, Ventura explains the origin of his project as well as his various inspirations. He also shows the different steps of his work leading to the final photograph–from sketching, to crafting the characters and sets, to setting the lights and taking the polaroids.

A deluxe, limited edition book and print set of Winter Stories is still available for purchase at Aperture. The clothbound collection features 65 four-color images and one unique drawing tipped in, signed and numbered by the artist, alongside an 11 1/2 x 14 in. signed Digital C-print of The Show.

Opening reception:
Saturday, February 25, 2012
6:00-9:00 pm

Exhibition on view:
Saturday, February 25-Saturday, March 24,2012

Obsolete Gallery
222 Main Street
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 399-0024

Ventura has also been featured in Aperture magazine issues 203 and 180.

Interview with Lorena Guillen Vaschetti: HISTORIA, MEMORIA Y SILENCIOS

“My mother and I are the only members left of a big Italian family. Convinced that she was lifting the heavy weight of the family past off my shoulders, she called me to let me know that she had thrown away all the family slides: “It happened already”, she said…” — Lorena Guillén Vaschetti

Lorena Guillen Vaschetti has just published her first monograph, Historia, Memoria y Silencios through Schilt Publishing, and Postcart Publishing in Italy. The project is an unusual exploration of personal history and power through family photography–what the photographs reveal and what is hidden. Lorena approaches the work as an anthropologist, and the simplicity of her work allows the viewer to bring their own stories, conclusions, and realities to the project.

In 2009, Lorena’s mother threw away all the family slides to protect her daughter from the family history. Lorena was able to recover only one box from the many that her mother had discarded. She re-photographed the contents from her perspective, choosing to leave the slides that were wrapped in packages unopened.

Lorena Guillén Vaschetti was born in Rosario, Argentina in 1974. She studied Architecture and Anthropology before committing to Photography. Her work has been exhibited in solo and group shows throughout South America, the United States and Europe, and is included in a number of public and private collections.

The book is in two parts and begins with photographs of the loose slides Lorena found in the box. She re-photographed the slides from a depth of field that leaves portions of the images out of focus, and the faces of her family members blurred. This gives the series a dreamlike, mysterious quality that reflects the passage of time, and poses intriguing questions about the relationship between family members, and what other unknown stories exist in between the picture frames.

Images from Historia, memoria y silencios (Historia, memoria)

In the second half of the book (tied in a Japanese binding) – Unopened/Sin Abrir – Lorena presents photographs of the packages of slides that she chose not to open. Bound in elastic bands, and concealed in film canisters, these photographic artifacts conceal family secrets that the artist will never learn. Lorena is most interested in what we cannot see, and how powerful constructed memories of our past shape what we ultimately believe to be true.

Images from Historia, memoria y lilencios (Silencios)

Congratulations on the book! It’s a unique approach to exploring the idea of family photographs and history. You studied Anthropology and Architecture before committing to photography. Does that education inform your work?

I can easily imagine that if I would have studied other careers my work would be different. Let me think about it with you: Architecture has been present in the way I thought the book as an object. I faced it as I think an architectural project. First the idea and then the factuality of it. To make an idea become a final object and all the process in between.

Let me give you an example: to express the “Un-openess” through japanese binding is different way to transmit the feeling of the impossibility of accessing those moments that already happened. A more physical way.

Last but not least technology: in this area my education did not informed the work directly: my the designer and the printer thought me about the technology in this particular field of book making.

Regarding Anthropology, it relates in so many different levels!

From understanding family links to reading codes through Semiology (in the first “vintage” images). And it can also be approached from an archeological point of view (mainly in the last ones, the “packages”).

Can you tell us how the book came about?

I met Maarten Schilt in Paris in November 2010. As soon as he saw my work he said that this work would make a great book. I had not considered the possibility of a book about this before but I thought it was a wonderful format for this body of work. We worked from February to August and in October the book was released in Europe and now, February, in the United States.

There also is an Italian edition by a publishing house in Rome called Postcart Edizioni.

Postcart came to know about the book when we were finishing it and offered to make the italian edition which was wonderful because most pictures are taken in Italy and both my grandparents (the photographer) were italians. And so am I !

Your early series about black boards appears to have a connection to your current work. It’s work about a structure, wherein the narrative is obscured, and it feels nostolgic, in the past. Did you see this connection?

You are completely right !!! and you said it wonderfully well….
I saw the connection later than I would have imagined. I work very intuitively and only later I think about the reasons why I did what I did.

What made you decide to reinterpret and rephotograph your family photographs?

A complex and sometimes sad family history. They became something else now.

I can’t imagine to allowing myself to NOT look at family photographs. Do you ever think you will explore those images? Is there a truth you don’t want exposed? The act of not looking is quite powerful.

Thank you Aline…
I understand what you say. As I mentioned earlier, I work very intuitively. For the time being I feel comfortable having them as objects holding unknown moments.

The fact that they became something else, larger perhaps than only the images they would offer is important to me.
I don’t know if I will ever open them. They are in a transparent box now. They are like archeology objects in a way.

Admittedly, I have had my own experience cleaning out my parent’s house and throwing away carousels of slides– that is one reason that this work really resonates with me. Have you given thought as to what our generation will pass on to our children, now that physical photographs are rare–most people keep them on their computers.
Very true! I have no idea what they will hold on to for the construction of memory. I would imagine a few objects and a few stories that will eventually wash with time. At the end of the day it is like it happened in history before photography existed.

And the next generation will have to deal with the problem of having too many (files): when we have too much it is usually hard to see what is important….
It is a very interesting matter.

Regarding your own story, I believe that even if you would have kept all your parent’s slides, only very few would have been meaningful to you. You probably already have that “space” of your memory filled with other objects or images (photographs or memories in your mind). In my experience that is enough.

In fact most of my family slides where already gone with the trash truck when I came to know. Perhaps if I would have had a million or they would not have been in such risk I would have never paid attention. (But let me confess that when I saw how wonderful they were I wanted them all back! )

As an Argentinian photographer, how do you connect with the rest of the world? Is Argentina supportive of photographers? Have you attended portfolio reviews outside of South America?

Argentina is a very difficult country for artists to live in terms of the lack of governmental support, especially economical. But there is a big artists’ community that is very interesting.

Yes, I attended portfolio reviews in different places such as Fotofest (Houston) Santa Fe Reviews (New Mexico) Paris photo and Bratislava!

Are you working on a new project?

I need to let it grow a bit more before I can speak about it. But it has to do with the need to fill in the blanks.

And finally what would be your perfect day?

Any day when I am in peace with myself, conscious of how lucky I am.
If it would be sunny, had nice simple food and I would have my loved ones around, then it would be the perfect, perfect day!

Photographer #426: Chen Wei

Chen Wei, 1980, is a Chinese fine-art and conceptual photographer based in Beijing. He builds large installations to photograph. His narrative images show bizarre spaces, scenes and objects that leave the viewer wondering. Chen uses his personal memories, childhood fantasies and combines this with realities found in modern China. He assembles all the required objects in his studio and starts building his scenes. “Chen Wei illustrates an intricate imagination fascinated with the eccentric and fanciful pursuits of early science, mathematics, alchemy, philosophers and madmen.” (M97 Gallery) His work has been shown in several solo exhibitions and in a vast number of group exhibitions throughout the world. The following images come from the series Everyday, Scenery and Props, House of Recovery and The Augur’s Game.

Website: www.chen-wei.orgwww.m97gallery.com