Child beggars, clam diggers, "cadres sent to villages for re-education purposes", detox clinic members, prisoners practising qigong – all human life is here, vividly captured in this captivating exhibition about China.
There is, however, a conspicuous absence of images of human death in the country that last year executed more people than any other nation; anything to do with the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre is also out of bounds. But the exhibition, from the Guangdong Museum of Art, cannot fail to intrigue. It is huge: more than 100,000 images by 1,000-plus photographers culled into 600 from 250 snappers, covering the period between 1951 and 2003.
Crowds of people are seemingly on tap for the photographers. In Wang Wenlan's 1991 black-and-white image Cycling to Work, throngs of Shanghai denizens wend their way to work in 12 makeshift lanes – six one way and six the other. People wait in their hundreds in a cage-like structure to board a Shanghai ferry in Wang Tong's 2001 black-and-white photograph. And they form a huge crescent watching a mobile court dispense justice in a mountainous area of Yunnan in Gao Ming's 2003 image. People are everywhere, that is, except for in Li Nan's black-and-white 1990 image of disabled children splayed out on wooden high chairs in a nursing home, above the (surely barbed) caption: "There is a shortage of personnel."
Among the older images is Zhang Zudao's 1957 photograph of the bustling Laifeng wood and coal market in Hubei; another, from 1958, shows female cooks of the impersonal-sounding Production Brigade.
While not overtly political, the exhibition covers controversial issues. One of the most arresting shots is 1999's Dead Fish in a Polluted Pond, in which photographer Hu Weiming points a finger at the human cause of the pollution by having a man looking away from the lens, surrounded by countless dead fish.
Another shows a downcast young woman in a chamber combing her long black hair, surrounded by other figures, mostly facing away from the camera; the caption reads: "Female prisoners hoping to have their death sentence repealed."
But a sense of energy and purposefulness pervades many of the images, among them Xu Peiwu's 1999 shot of workers pulling down "temporary housing" in Guangdong, or Wang Fuchun's 1999 image of a man sleeping in a commercial building in Shanghai, "owned by the investor responsible for tearing his house down".
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