Shi Guorui, Great Wall, 2002, Unique camera obscura silver gelatin print, 126 x 330 cm.
Shi Guorui, New Shanghai, 2007, Unique camera obscura silver gelatin print, 136 x 352 cm.
Shi Guorui, Shenzhen, 2007, Unique camera obscura silver gelatin print, 123 x 330 cm.
Shi Guorui, Tian'anmen, 2007, Unique camera obscura silver gelatin print, 119 x 234 cm.
Shi Guorui, New CCTV, 2007, Unique camera obscura silver gelatin print, 133 x 244 cm.
hi Guorui, Shenzhen, 2007, Unique camera obscura silver gelatin print, 127 x 210 cm.
Shi Guorui, San Francisco, 2007, Unique camera obscura silver gelatin print, 135 x 254 cm.
Golden Gate Park
Tea Garden Drive
Reproduction and Refashioning
May 26-September 30, 2007
Shi Guorui: Reproduction and Refashioning features photographs made using materials and techniques that predate the lens camera. Based in Beijing’s 798 Art District, a contemporary art epicenter, Shi Guorui has established himself in the vanguard of 21st-century photography. His work challenges perceptions through image reversal, high contrast, extreme depth of field, and scale.
Shi Guorui: Reproduction and Refashioning includes over 25 photograms, a pre-camera method of imaging by placing objects on light-sensitized photo paper and exposing it to light, and four monumental camera obscura photographs created with room-size pinhole cameras during Shi Guorui’s FOR-SITE FOUNDATION residency in 2006. The FOR-SITE FOUNDATION, an organization dedicated to art that investigates the concept of place, organized camera shoots in the de Young tower, on Alcatraz Island, at Donner Pass, and in front of the famous Hollywood sign to capture views of iconic sites that have become historically symbolic reference points. “Shi Guorui’s use of the camera obscura and the photogram is more than the appropriation of optical technologies that precede the era of lens photography,” says Daniell Cornell, Director of Contemporary Art Projects and curator of the Collection Connections series. “It is a deliberate attempt to reintroduce the elements of time and place into iconic images.”
Shi Guorui is quoted in the New York Times saying “Early on I was interested in these technical details, but what is important to me now is the process.” His particular process is deliberately slow and intuitive. Camera obscuras are constructed on-site and the exposure times run several hours. When asked about precise exposure times Shi Guorui replies “I don’t need a watch. It’s intuition. I have acquired a feeling for the darkness.”
Guorui's large camera obscura project photographsare usually 3.5 to 4 metres long by 1.2 metres high. He has so far completed two such projects, The Great Wall and the Shanghai riverfront. Both of these projects took six months of planning and in the case of The Great Wall, five to six additional weeks to complete as one of its watchtowers was turned into the camera. Out of about six photos attempted the artist deemed only three to be acceptable. One of these photos is now in the collection of the Pompidou Museum, the second in the private collection of Uli and Rita Sigg and the third in another private collection. Also in the Sigg collection is one of the Shanghai works which was included in this summer's exhibition of the Sigg collection in Bern. This photo, showing the early colonial buildings of the Bund and the new development zone of Pudong separated by the Huangpu river, was taken using a hotel conference room as the camera. The average exposure time for these photos is eight hours.
Shi Guorui in 2005 completed his third major, large scale camera obscura work. This project captured Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world using a special construction for a camera. Unlike his earlier projects where he was able to use existing buildings or rooms in buildings as his camera, the camera for Everest was built on site. The artist made a number of trips to Everest to pick the perfect high altitude site. Technically, the Everest project presented the greatest difficulties he had ever encountered on a project; he was forced to deal with altitude, the elements and atmosphere tht were quite unlike any where else. The final result was a project that was completed in complete harmony with nature. Shi Guorui's Himalayas series captures the haunting majesty of the world's tallest peak. Shi Guorui once again exhibits his mastery of the camera obscura techinque in his ability to capture tremendous detail and depth in his images.
All the locations Shi Guorui selects are iconic: The Great Wall is the spiritual symbol for China; the Shanghai photo shows old colonial powers (the Bund) facing the new China (Pudong). Everest held a similar magical status and is thought by many mountaineers to be the ultimate climb. Its remoteness renders it invisible from any inhabited place. Hong Kong is a symbol of modernity while the three sites in the western United States are symbolic of dreams and hopes, both fulfilled and unfulfilled.
Shi Guorui's camera obscura photographs provide a surreal vision. By removing all activity from the image the subjects are taken to their essence. Shi Guorui sees it as a purification of the soul. As Shi Guorui told the New York Times for the article, In his Camera, a Slow Motion View, "early on I was interested in these technical details, but what's important to me now is the process." This fascination with the process of capturing an image has lead Shi Guorui to become China's foremost camera obscura photographer.