Born and raised in Shanghai, Shen Wei is a fine art photographer currently based in New York City. His work have been exhibited nationally and internationally, with venues including the Museum of the City of New York, Southeast Museum of Photography, Lincoln Center Avery Fisher Hall, the Harn Museum of Art and the CAFA Art Museum in Beijing. His photographs have been featured in publications such as The New Yorker, Aperture, ARTnews, PDN, American Photo, and Chinese Photography. Shen Wei's work is included in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Philadelphia Museum of Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Museum of Fine Arts St. Petersburg, Library of Congress, Florida Museum of Photographic Arts, Museum of Chinese in America, Rockefeller Brothers Fund and Kinsey Institute. He holds an MFA in photography, video, and related media from the School of Visual Arts, New York; a BFA in photography from Minneapolis College of Art and Design; and an AA in decorative arts from Shanghai Light Industry College.
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?
Your favorite motto?
From caring comes courage. – Lao Tzu
Join us for this fun, intimate, break-down-the-barriers, photo-collecting workshop. Moderated by Bill Hunt, the day will start with brunch and a conversation with other important collectors including Cathy Kaplan and Jan Larsen. Then venture out for a behind-the-scenes tour of various Chelsea galleries with Brian Clamp and artist Monika Merva, Daniel Cooney with artist Shen Wei, Robert Mann, Yancey Richardson, and Julie Saul, among other experts in the field. Each attendee will also receive a complimentary pass to the New York Photo Festival for Sunday, May 15th.
As there is limited space for this event, sign up to SNAP! New Collectors Program now and enjoy a full calendar of member-only activities including meet-the-artist events, and informal educational offerings; receive two complimentary Aperture publications and sneak peek offers on our new limited-edition prints and portfolios; among other benefits.
Saturday, May 14
FREE for current SNAP! members
As the event is limited to 35 guests, attendance will be on a first-come, first-served basis with a minimum of 10 participants.
547 West 27th Street
New York, New York
Image courtesy of Shen Wei and Daniel Cooney Fine Art, NY
Moveable Feast: Fresh Produce and the NYC Green Cart Program features the work of photographers who have turned their lenses on city neighborhoods where there is little access to nutritious food, documenting street scenes and urban environments. The exhibition also reveals a new, important use for a nearly ubiquitous and historic urban icon: the pushcart. Moveable Feast is organized by the Museum of the City of New York in conjunction with Aperture Foundation, with support from the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund.
Aperture Foundation asked 5 emerging photographers to undertake the NYC Green Cart Commission, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Thomas Holton, Gabriele Stabile, Will Steacy and Shen Wei. As media outlets for this kind of sustained storytelling disappear, this commission is especially important—it supports photography, produces a meaningful archive, and expands public dialogue. Each of the five photographers brought a unique artistic vision and point of view to their mission of documenting the Green Carts, which operate in designated neighborhoods in each of the five boroughs. They photographed the carts themselves, the lives of the vendors, interactions with customers, and the commercial landscapes of the surrounding communities.
A special thanks to the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund for their partnership and support in making the Green Cart Photography Commission and this exhibition possible. Laurie M. Tisch commented, “The New York City Green Cart Initiative brings diverse partners together to help increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables across our city. Green Carts operate at the intersection of public health and urban culture. The Illumination Fund is delighted to help facilitate this inspiring showcase depicting the experience of NYC Green Cart vendors. The work of these emerging photographers celebrates an important NYC program as well as an iconic New York City street symbol.”
Susan Henshaw Jones, the Ronay Menschel Director of the Museum, stated: “We are so pleased to present the work of these artists, most of whom are working in the tradition of street photography and social documentary. The Museum of the City of New York has one of the most important repositories of photographs related to the social history of New York City. These five photographers follow in their footsteps. We are proud to present this exhibition, which helps focus attention on a vitally important civic issue.”
NYC Green Carts is an independently operated mobile fruit and vegetable stand program initiated by the Mayor’s Fund for New York City, the New York City Department of Health, and the Laurie M. Tisch Illumination Fund. The Museum of the City of New York, with substantial and important holdings in the field of New York City photographs—most notably, in this instance, the Jacob Riis archive—jumped at the opportunity to exhibit the photographs in Moveable Feast and will complement the contemporary photographs with images from their historic collection. Several photographs of pushcarts will be exhibited, including an 1895 image by Jacob Riis, entitled “A Vegetable Stand in Mulberry Street Bend with Myself (Jacob A. Riis) in the Picture.”
Exhibition on view through July 10
The Museum of the City of New York
1220 Fifth Avenue