China: Pingyao International Photography Festival 2011
Pingyao International Photography Festival 2011
Pingyao International Photography Festival is China’s largest and longest-running photo event. For this, the third year that Alasdair Foster had presented the work of Australian artists at the festival, the Melbourne artistic partnership of Gerard O’Connor and Marc Wasiak undertook an ambitious multifaceted project involving an exhibition, a film and two large-scale photographic shoots.
Witty, satirical and at times challenging, the exhibition, entitled ‘Decline and Fall’, brought together seven bodies of their work. Each series is built around a large central image of cinematic complexity, with a series of smaller portrait studies depicting the key characters. Each project involves many performers and a team of technical specialists to create works that, like History Painting, unfold the whole story in single picture.
The exhibition included works previously shown in Australia and two new series receiving their world premiere. One depicted the last decadent excesses of a gang of Nazi soldiers and their hangers-on holed up in a bunker and waiting for annihilation. The other, set in historic Melbourne Jail, tells a melodramatic tale of life in work house for ‘fallen young women’, with echoes of the social critique of Charles Dickens with the ribaldry of John Cleland.
The artists jointly won the Jin Hou Niao Zun trophy for their exhibition. Judging was undertaken by a panel of eminent Chinese and international photography experts. This was the second year in a row that artists presented at PIP by Alasdair Foster had won the International Award.
Live photographic shoots
O’Connor and Wasiak undertook two live photo shoots whilst in Pingyao. The first, in a former Diesel Engine Factory, was a public event and visitors could come and watch throughout the day as the large tableau work was prepared and shot. Traveling with the artists were producer Marissa Wood, make-up specialist Lou McClaren and digital technician, David Reiss. Together with local volunteers and visiting photographers they made up a 10-strong production team. A further three dozen or so people made up the cast of characters who ranged from factory workers, hawkers and bosses to the gods and ghosts of the past.
The second shoot was set in one of Pingyao’s picturesque ancient courtyard buildings. It told the tangled stories of a Ching Dynasty family and their servants. Patriarchal power, secret love affairs and the omnipresent servants weave together in this 19th Century Chinese soap opera.
Gerard O’Connor and Mark Wasiak presented a new film about their work. Just completed, the film was receiving its premiere at the festival and had been especially subtitled in Chinese to mark the event.
Conference and Workshop
Elsewhere in the festival program Alasdair Foster spoke at a conference on the role of photography in a digital age, and undertook a professional development workshop for photographers.
Entrance to ‘Decline & Fall’ exhibition (photo © Gerard O’Connor)
Diesel Engine Factory photo shoot – PIP11 (photo © Benedict Foster)