September 2007

Three Photographers

Addison/Ripley Fine Art

Washington, D.C.

This show brings together the work of three Chinese photographers who manipulate their imagery to conjure a retreat from reality. Among these fantasy images Xie Wenyue’s deserted landscapes stood out.

China without crowds would be like America without cars, and Xie cleverly depicts the first of those improbabilities with digitally altered photographs. Each work consists of two images. The first presents a Chinese public place with teeming crowds; the second, apparently shot at the same moment, shows no sign of human activity. The technique works best in heroic settings. In the remarkable Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao (2005), the absence of people in front of the building’s hulking shell conveys a chilling feeling of alienation. Other works suggest a hankering for privacy or uncover landscapes lost under the crush of people, as in the twin panoramas of Hukou Waterfalls (2006). The first images if of crowds gathered at a waterfall in rural China, snapping pictures and gazing at the water; the second one shows only two donkeys standing on one side. Although the image is eerie, the lonely beasts of burden indicate that Xie also has a sense of humor.

Liu Ren’s round, surrealistic dreamscapes are intriguing for their startling juxtapositions – waves splashing against drab skyscrapers – but they quickly appeared coy and contrived.

Sun Hongbin’s hazy, nocturnal landscapes are also dreamlike, but with a more impressionistic touch. The artist explores the effects of moonlight on water and vegetation, sometimes with a blurriness evoking 19th century Pictorialist photographs.

–Roger Atwood