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The Theft of Romance – Souvenir Photos

How strange are the normal matters of the world? The affairs of man and woman were raised to the level of culture and dubbed romance. The phenomenon of alienation that resulted from romance under the controlling influence of politics has been dubbed theft of romance. In thirty years of development, the economy has risen and the government’s power to govern has vastly increased, but rapid development has made old themes once again come to the surface. 

Since the establishment of the People’s Republic, China has gone through three major historical stages, and in each of these, the issue of women has appeared quite important. The first stage was the early days of the People’s Republic, when the proletariats went from the countryside to the city. Seeing the lovely ladies of the city, many of our victors lost taste for their battle-hardened wives in the villages and began a mass movement changing spouses. At the same time, the vanquished Kuomintang were using “female spies” to attain their political goals. This was the first time that romance was put on trial in the new China. The second stage was the Cultural Revolution. During this period everything was classified and categorized according to political standards. Politically powerful women were not necessarily beautiful, and beautiful women were not necessarily politically powerful. But what about human instincts? This placed “romance” and politics in direct opposition, splitting innumerable families and bringing rise to so many rapists. If the influence of authority over women at the dawn of new China was equivalent to the capturing of women at the change of a dynasty, then the Cultural Revolution period attained the seduction of “romance” by changing ideas. The third stage began with reform and opening. With the crazed material pursuits of Chinese people and the abnormally rapid pace of the nation’s development, the issue of women has once again arisen. As far as families go, we have sacrificed a generation of marriages. The majority of marriages that began in the early eighties have since ended in divorce. Those with power have used their power to gain more possession over women. This includes those with power and those with money. But “romance” has had a negative effect on society: when it comes to those with power, corrupt officials must make breaches in style, and those who breach style must be corrupt. For those with money, “romance” has become a means of raising social status and an important component in trading money and power. For those of culture, the issue of “romance” has become the only means of releasing the pressure of falling behind in terms of power and money, and it is also the basic set of rules for controlling women who are weaker than they. Take for instance the unspoken rule in the movie business of spreading one’s legs to obtain a role in films. So, is power an aphrodisiac? Are beautiful women all disastrous? This both is and is not an issue, and I just want to provide a bit of perspective for people to think about. This is the influence that politics has exerted on women since it took power. It is like the ancients used to say, “Water can carry a boat, but it can also bury it”. 

For these reasons, there are certain traits of the concealment of romance. Those with power do not want to leave behind traces of their debauchery. As a result, the only kind of photography that can reflect this issue is the souvenir photography from taking women to the countryside for fun. But those “I was here” photos have always been very normal, non-artistic and kitschy, nothing but a memento for powerful people. I have taken a large format camera to move them out in the open, and turn the obscure into the super-clear. I’ve taken the private and turned it into a “calendar” we can all enjoy together and use to rethink “romance”. The woman in the Qipao dress has always been a source of excitement for Chinese men. When the Qipao dress first came out, some decried it as “indecent attire” meant to evoke lustful thoughts. Moreover, the female spies we recognize on the silver screen always wear the Qipao dress when they come to strike at the proletariat. Women, to every man, are an unavoidable “disaster”. Is this the inevitable fate?

Most of these souvenir photos were taken by people involved in “romance”; basically the work of a bunch of novices. But they are much more beautiful than the ones produced in the studios. The problem is that the image quality is rather low, precluding us from magnifying them into giant images to share the hidden with everyone. For this reason we use large format photography to turn these “crude” souvenir photos into “exquisite” romantic photos. This is more than simply copying the “souvenir photos”. These works maintain certain qualitative aspects of souvenir photos. These popularized souvenir photos, which anyone could use, have been liberated from their original context. By placing them in a different arrangement, totally new images are produced. Is this a bit anti-pop? Estheticism taken to its fullest extreme becomes criticism. There are many paths of artistic creation, and one of those just might be the refinement of the quotidian.

中文 / English