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'Chance favors the prepared mind': the landscape photographs of Zeng Yicheng

By A. D. Coleman | | Updated: 2018-03-26 11:16
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Flower in mirror, by Zeng Yicheng. [Photo provided to]


However esoteric White's thesis may appear, and regardless of whether one agrees with it, he articulated a concept, and an approach to the medium, that underlay the work of Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Wynn Bullock before him. Indeed, it traces back to Alfred Stieglitz and Herbert W. Gleasonin the early part of the 20th century and Peter Henry Emerson in the latter part of the 19th: the belief that photography could transcend its mechanistic premises, and that photographs could go beyond the literal description of their nominal subject matter. In effect, they argued that a photograph did not have to be about what it was of; or, as White put it, "One should not only photograph things for what they are but for what else they are." Photographs, in their view, could function as metaphors, and photography as a language could achieve that level we call the poetic.

To date, Western photography and its field of ideas have found their way to mainland China in merely fragmentary and thus unsatisfying ways. Similarly, Chinese photography and its field of ideas presently reach the west in bits and pieces. They have yet to reach the condition of dialogue. This makes it difficult, if not impossible, to trace connections between the two; at most, one can point to similarities in attitude, methodology, and craft that suggest parallels and correspondences. However, we can say with certainty that while much photographic activity worldwide seems mindless, the medium itself, when taken seriously as a practice, a way of engaging thoughtfully with the manifestations of the material world, enables and even encourages mindfulness. As Zeng Yicheng's work demonstrates, photographers everywhere can, and not infrequently do, find their way to some version of that relationship with the medium's tools, materials, and processes. In so doing they join a fellowship that knows no geographic or political borders.

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