Review of "Re-Focus: Dragon" by Wang Chuan--Photo Gallery

TEXT:Sue Wang    DATE: 2011.11.1

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Re-Focus: Dragon 2010--2011

by Wang Chuan

Why Re-Focus?

The essence of photography is to choose; as true today as it has been throughout the history of photography. The act of choosing is memorialized and the photographs are imprinted with the photographer’s beliefs, aesthetic values and singular form of expression, all qualities unique to each photographer; and these unique choices are embodied in the photograph as physical manifestation of a photographer’s personal perspective.Variations in photo technique form the physical traces of the photographer’s choices. As the photographer develops his/her technical skills, he/she is also constantly adjusting the means of actualizing such choices.

The act of adjusting the lens and focusing the camera is one of photography’s most basic techniques: Getting ready to shoot, the photographer adjusts the lens and aims at his focal point at a fixed distance from the object, selecting the best frame to express his ideas. Focusing the lens is the domain of the photographer, and limited only by his equipment. Today, photo equipment continues on its evolutionary trajectory, with increased automation, more automatic functions; numerous conveniences; and, sometimes this multitude of new functions even overrides and usurps the photographers’ choices.

As an artist committed to my craft, I am aware of these personal choices and the critical role they play in my photographic practice, and the accompanying responsibilities I must assume for the choices I’ve made. These choices can only be made after critical consideration of and prolonged experience with the media in my hands. Since 2007, my art practice includes a fascination with digital pixels as the basic building block of digital photography, and I’ve experimented with various means of integrating enlarged pixels into my work, forming the basis not only of my digital photography production but also gradually shaping my attitude toward the untapped potential of photo image presentations.

In my latest series, “Refocus: Dragon”, I’ve shifted my attention to the “visual space and order of viewing” that exists between pixel-ized and normal digital images. As I adjust my lens, I move from blurred views to increased clarity, shifting the focal point from out-of-focus points beyond the reach of the lens to views within the clear scope of my camera equipment. In “Refocus: Dragon” I attempt to approximate the photographer’s eye as it shifts back and forth, with the help of the camera lens, from clear to blurred images. “Refocus: Dragon” replicates this shift in views from the camera lens, between normal sharp images and the pixel-ized blurring images, integrating them as equal components of one photo image. I add my subjective choices, memorializing them in the final photo print, rather than producing a print based – impossibly - solely on optical and mechanical processes.

Why the Dragon?

In China, the dragon is our mystical creature, embodying the union of nine ancient animals each with unique characteristics. The dragon is the ultimate totem of the Chinese people. Chinese legends passed down over centuries, from generation to generation, refer to the ties between the Chinese and the dragon. All of the emperors in successive dynasties were referred to as the incarnation of “The Dragon”; and, in Chinese historical lore emperors are described as “true dragons” and “true Sons of Heaven”. The image of the dragon as symbol of imperial power appears on royal emblems, eventually evolving today beyond an imperial insignia, into a popular symbol found in almost every aspect of quotidian life. For the subjects of the emperor, the dragon symbol has quite complex connotations: The dragon can be revered as an ultimate icon in life, a kind of guardian against unforeseeable future events; it can be the most gorgeous and spectacular holy creature or it can also be a talisman to be manipulated and played with. The dragon is a fluid entity, a vessel holding a cornucopia of beliefs. In the dramatically changing society of contemporary China, many traditions are dying out or being replaced, however, the dragon as symbol of China and its traditions continues to touch our lives. Beyond the endless spectacle of dragon imagery still seen around us, the dragon continues to stand for an appreciation of traditional conventions and aesthetics, along with all the “bowing to tradition” the dragon symbol implies. I remain fascinated by the thinking behind the myriad dragon decorations, the ties each dragon has to the peculiar contexts in which I find it, and the dragon’s complicated relationship with contemporary society.

The strength of the Chinese dragon iconography is evidenced in its presence still in all aspects of daily life, on clothing, garnishing food, decorating homes, cars, weddings, funerals and popular entertainment. This inundation of visual imagery one day built to a critical mass before my eyes, leading me down the path of my “Refocus: Dragon” series. This path of exploration took me into people’s hearts and minds, and opened my eyes to a range of social and cultural phenomenon, views of society that were at once colorful and also grotesque; fleeting images, thought-provoking and seductive.

The more one explores – and ponders - the “dragon phenomenon” the more one comes to the realization that the task is potentially endless. China today needs more than ever the protection of the dragon; and at the same time, there is also an unprecedented indifference toward the dragon. Traditional practices of paying tribute to the dragon have now given way to simplistic and direct borrowing and whitewashing of its long history. Dragon images are embellished to the point of ridiculousness. Mass production, over-pricing, and all manner of modern societal tricks have turned the dragon into something cheap and ready-made in spite of the fact that its image still embodies all of people’s expectations about the future, wealth and health. As an old saying goes “Any river can be holy with the presence of a dragon.” Today, Chinese people seem to have taken this homage to a ridiculous extreme.

I sincerely believe photography is the best tool for approaching and understanding the world around me. Photography’s great potential is in revealing not only what lies in front of us but also what lies below initial surface appearances.

As for the dragon, I believe that, no matter how much the world changes, the dragon will always stay with us, holding a place in our hearts, and moving silently between people’s material and spiritual worlds. My way of coping with these challenges can only be to focus – and then again, to refocus!

Beijing, April 2011

Courtesy of Wang Chuan and All Rights Reserved.