“Three shadows” presumably relates to the shadows, midtones and highlights of the photographic image that are all in a sense shadows. I wonder if this institution with obvious artistic intentions actually delivers or is it run by people who don’t really understand it’s principles; it has been advised to me by American who is involved in photography and has apparently visited the place so this augurs well. This centre designed by Ai Weiwei does not disappoint.
Although I passed signposts to the gallery yesterday, today I find myself trying to get a taxi to the place from the centre of Beijing. According to the reception at The King Dragon guest house, taxi drivers are not interested in visiting this place; however, this really means that they are too busy at the time of day. It takes me about 15 minutes to hail a taxi from the main road and the driver takes me straight to the gallery. I leave my mobile in his car but within 5 minutes he is back to give it to me, not something likely to happen in Delhi or London.
The gallery is situated in what appears to be a warehouse centre where corporations also have offices. There are other galleries in the neighbourhood such as the Jing Gallery. It takes me a little time to find the Three Shadows gallery even though the driver has left me right outside. After heading off in another diretion, I return to find the entrance the design of which immediately gives a feel of a place that has been creatively constructed. The architectural work is brick and left as a brownish-grey in keeping with the monochromatic feel, the buildings rectangular and without artifice yet the space created by this basic building work is inviting and the staff are welcoming.
There is an exhibition on at the first building I come across; this is the Plus 3 Gallery about which more can be found at it’s website. I deal with the exhibition in another blog!
After seeing and reflecting upon this exhibition I meet Sheila, a young Chinese woman who works in the Plus 3 gallery that is a commercial arm of the Three Shadows. It is a gallery that aims to not just show work but also to sell it and works on behalf of photographers. During my visit, Sheila is working on a display to be held in Shanghai after a couple of months; this is a festival where the work will be exhibited with the likelihood of sales (www.photoshanghai.org). The photographs to be used are laid out on a table at a very small size so that the whole exhibition can be visualised beforehand. This is something that has been advised to me in the past and which I have ignored, preferring to do things digitally on a large screen.
The Three Shadows itself, is run on charitable lines. The massive library for instance, it amounts to over 4,000 volumes and is still growing, is largely donated. Sheila did not tetll me about how staff were paid yet the Three Shadows does not aim to make large profits rather it is more concerned with keeping afloat and presenting photography to China, the Chinese and anyone else interested. It was started and is still run by a Chinese photographer, Rangrang, and his Japanese photographer wife, Inri; they do not however, use the place to merely promote themselves but obviously have a much wider vision. Any initial concerns that the place might be cliquey and hence unwelcoming were soon dispelled.
Another exhibition being held during my visit was one organised by The Three Shadows and was titled Formlessness; it features work by a couple of dozen promising Chinese photographers selected from over 500 and there is a catalogue to accompany it. It is not easy to review such an exhibition since there are so many artists with different intentions and interpretations of the overall theme. Their work is often striking though and some of the artist’s statements make interesting reading.
Perhaps the hub of the centre is the bookshop and cafe where one can sit and enjoy a drink. White gloves are provided so that one can leaf through the photographic books on sale. There is not a wide selection and much is concerned with photographers associated with the centre or who have exhibitied here. A book of black and white photographs by the artist Wei Wei is one of the more original books one is likely to see. This year will see the publication of a book about Chinese photobooks following an exhibition in Arles; unfortunately, I don’t know which books this will deal with but it will certainly provide a good shopping list. My own approach to buying photobooks is to go for the ones I actually like and so the monograph of the exhibition I have just seen, Yellow River, is an obvious choice.