Selected Photographic
Books by Chinese Artists,
Spring 2016

Compiled by Jiayi Liu

Until Death Do Us Part
Thomas Sauvin

Until Death Do Us Part pays close attention to the role cigarettes play in Chinese weddings. During the ceremony, it is customary for the bride to light a cigarette for each and every man present as a way to show appreciation for attending the wedding. The guests also invite the bride and groom to play cigarette-smoking games to wish them a happy marriage. This book pays homage to a tradition in which love and death walk hand in hand.

The anonymous wedding photos come from the Beijing Silvermine project, initiated in the summer of 2009 by the French artist Thomas Sauvin. Purchased from a recycling plant, more than half a million negatives were restored, scanned, and then put into the Beijing Silvermine collection. The photographs were taken between 1985 and 2005 in Beijing. The small hardcover book is fitted into a case the size and shape of a cigarette box, with full-bleed printing on each page. This book has two editions.

Thomas Sauvin, Until Death Do Us Part. China: Jiazazhi Press, June 2015 (first edition, 1,000 copies) and September 2015 (second edition, 2,000 copies); ISBN 9789881263193
Size: 53x83x21 mm
108 pages, hardcover

 

Fountain
Dongdong Cai

Fountain is the first book published by the Beijing-based photographer Dongdong Cai. Born in Tianshui, Gansu, in 1978, Cai began his career as a portrait photographer while he was serving in the army. The images in this book are photographs he has taken over a period of many years, photographs he considered “outtakes” when he was editing for his earlier projects. Cai’s images were altered and manipulated using methods such as scratching, layering, and pixelating. Humorously yet magically, Fountain presents a kind of narrative that merges fact and fiction.

This book itself was designed in an interactive way: for example, some of the pages are coated with reflective material so that when the book is opened, the images on the other side are mirrored. Fountain reflects artistically on the materiality and fluidity of the photographic image as it delivers multiple meanings.

Dongdong Cai, Fountain; postface by Jie Hai. China: Jiazazhi Press, November 2015 (first edition, 500 copies); ISBN 9789881457431
Size: 220x270x15 mm
92 pages, hardcover, leather-bound

 

Coastline
Xiao Zhang

Zhang Xiao started his journey, from 2009 to 2013, along the coastline of China. Born in Yantai, a city located on the Bohai Strait, on the southern coast of the Korea Bay, Zhang developed a profound relationship with the ocean. In an interview with Taiwan-based Voice of Photography magazine (摄影之声) Zhang said, “For me, the coastline project is a journey which allows me to revisit and relocate my homeland.”

China’s long coastline runs from the mouth of the Yalu River, in Liaoning province in the north, to the mouth of the Beilun River, in Guangxi province in the south. Great changes happen every day in China, particularly in the coastal areas, where construction is accelerated to “catch up” with the rest of the world. Many people left their native places to work as migrants on the coast, and their sense of belonging was lost during the process. Zhang’s works in particular respond to the feeling of being lost in one’s own homeland. Incorporating diary excerpts, maps, hotel receipts, and train tickets printed on a separate folding page inserted in a paper pocket, this book provides a vantage point from which to engage in close observation of the collective dilemmas regarding identity and nostalgia caused by modernization.

Xiao Zhang, Coastline; foreword “The Absurdity and After the Absurdity,” by Changjiang Yan. China: Jiazazhi Press, August 2014 (edition of 600 copies); ISBN 9789881263155
Size: 215x280x22 mm
192 pages plus 16 folding pages, 118 color pictures, hardcover, cloth-bound

 

Beast by the Waterfall Guesthouse
Wenxin Zhang

Beast by the Waterfall Guesthouse explores estrangement, danger, desire, and the grotesque in a way that forms nonlinear photographic “novels.” The photographer’s landscapes blur the line between fiction and fact and her close-ups of animals and human figures evoke intense feelings of rediscovered desire, raising questions about identity and personal relationships. She tells fairy tales about the passage of time, adventures in the wild, and the instinct to return to a primitive state, but the narratives she suggests are always open to interpretation. The book itself is designed to incorporate texts with images, and its small size adds a sense of playfulness and mystery.

Born in Hefei, China, in 1989, the photographer Wenxin Zhang is now based in San Francisco.

Wenxin Zhang, Beast by the Waterfall Guesthouse; foreword “Light Extremities,” by Timothy Leonido. Italy: Witty Kiwi Books, November 2015 (first edition, 250 copies)
Size: 150x240 mm
76 pages, 31 photos, four texts, hardcover with book jacket

 

Koan
Xiaoyi Chen

A koan is a story or riddle used, in Zen Buddhism, to gain a state of spontaneous reflection, free from planning and analytical thought. The Chinese photographer Xiaoyi Chen’s work reflects on the philosophies of Zen Buddhism and Taoism, philosophies that emphasize the inadequacy of language and words and the importance of intuition over reason and logic.

Chen was born and raised in Sichuan and studied photography at London’s University of the Arts. She has used the photo-etching process to make beautiful prints of abstract landscapes, many taken in Iceland. This analog-printing method, which requires a commitment of long-term training, precise measurement, and intense manual labor, resonates perfectly with her images. Mountains, rivers, rocks, and even unidentified patterns, printed in tones as muted as the darkroom in which they are made, become symbols that are seemingly chaotic yet fundamentally liberating.

Xiaoyi Chen, Koan. London: PJB Editions, December 2014 (edition of 350 copies); ISBN 9780957631427
Size: 215x273 mm
72 pages, 40 photographs, case-bound book, sewn binding

Jiayi Liu is a photographic artist and an independent collector of artist’s books. She divides her time between China and the United States.