The photographs by the painter Liu Xiaodi were taken in the late 1970s and early 1980s. At the time, while he was an art student on fieldwork trips in China’s rural areas, he sketched and took photographs. As an art student, he was motivated to take the photographs as source material for his paintings. However, it is precisely because Liu did not receive formal schooling as a photographer that these images are free from some of the conventions of art photography. Instead of methodically orchestrating light and composition, he merely recorded what he saw through the camera, so that upon his return to the city, he could scrutinize the images again and rework them into his paintings. Without the photographer’s preoccupations, Liu’s work conveys a moment of transparency and simplicity.
Village (series), 1978-1979
Untitled (no. 1)
I place Liu at the beginning of the exhibition because his images of Chinese rural life retain the traces of a society bound by the social structure and lifestyles of the Maoist era. Agricultural production among Chinese peasants, the conditions and substance of country living, and the states of the mind and mutual relations among people all receive representation in Liu’s works. The photographs that he originally took for his painting projects made him an accidental witness to a...