Identity and Tactics: The Everyday "Civil Contract" of Photography in Contemporary China
(University College London)
Paper short abstract:
This paper aims to explore the political implications of photographic practices in contemporary China on an everyday base. It asks how and why making and presenting photographic works play a vital role in image makers' self-identification and negotiations with larger political-economic discourses.
Paper long abstract:
This paper aims to explore the political implications of photographic practices in contemporary China, drawing on qualitative data obtained from ethnographic fieldwork with both photography-based artists and amateur photographers. It asks how and why making and presenting photographic works play a vital role in their self-identification and negotiations with larger political-economic discourses on a national base, such as China's booming Internet economy, art market, state institutions, etc. For instance, how a series of staged photographic portraitures of an unidentified ethnic group enable its author to gain an international fame and funding so that he could identify himself as an "artist not being governed" and refuse to be represented by any gallery or art agency? Why a Chinese amateur photographer living in the UK is eager to photograph the country's monumental sites and post them on various social media and photographic platforms? In this paper, the photography's political belongings, though not as explicit as those in war, propaganda and reportage photography that are often associated with historical and evidential registers, characterises the "everyday tactics" (de Certeau 1988) employed by contemporary image makers to embrace or resist the power and capital that are penetrating their daily life. According to Ariel Azouley, photography here has the ability to allow people to "imagine every day", creating a "civil political space" where a "civil contract" is agreed by photographers, spectators and photographed people (2008). Following this statement, the paper examines this photography's "civil contract" in contemporary China by interrogating my informant's everyday photographic practices.
Photography and Political Belonging