Kurt Tong, Daniel Traub, Beijing Silvermine/Thomas Sauvin
In collaboration with Chinese Culture Center
SF Camerawork: February 20 - April 16, 2016
Chinese Culture Center: February 20 - May 14, 2016

New Show Views Chinese Culture through Recontextualized Photos, by Jean Schiffman, SF/Arts Monthly, Feb 2016
New SF Photo Exhibit Looks Back at 20th Century Life in China, by Elena Wang, 7x7, Feb 2016

回 Retrieved is a photography exhibition at two sites, a unique collaboration and partnership between the Chinese Culture Foundation of San Francisco and SF Camerawork. Both exhibition sites will provide complementary bodies of work by 3 artists, capturing personal, human, and living portraits of China in the last century. The exhibition portrays the cosmopolitan and shifting parameters of the Chinese experience as a global trend of cultural expansion and universality, one in which viewers are certain to find glimpses if not revelations of personal lives and histories.

回 Retrieved brings together three distinctive photographic projects: a personal photo history of one Hong Kong Family; a growing archive of discarded negatives salvaged from a junkyard on the outskirts of Beijing; and a selection of portraits of African migrants taken by itinerant street photographers in the mega-metropolis of Guangzhou. The exhibition reflects on the transition and movement of time, place, and people in modern China, and is based on either abandoned or neglected photographs that were gleaned by artists with varied relationships to the source material.

Image: Beijing Silvermine/Thomas Sauvin

Image: Beijing Silvermine/Thomas Sauvin

Artist Kurt Tong’s series “The Queen, The Chairman, and I” adroitly incorporates original work with the artist’s family photographs, tracing his familial journey from Shanghai, to Hong Kong, to England, and back to Hong Kong. This push-pull relationship to China, and what it means to be Chinese, is at the heart of the project. Accompanying his carefully curated archive will be an installation of a Chinese tea house at the Chinese Culture Foundation’s Visual Art Center, which provides the viewer an opportunity to sit, sip tea, and consider the project and its connections to viewers’ own family histories.

“Beijing Silvermine,” another archive sourced project, is the title French photographer and editor Thomas Sauvin has given to his vast collection of salvaged photographic negatives. In 2009, Sauvin purchased the negatives, by the kilo, from a recycler’s warehouse on the outskirts of Beijing. Sauvin then sorted, digitized, and catalogued the collection of several million images. The result is an amazing archive of often bizarre but revealing images documenting the changing lives of Beijing residents from 1985 to 2005, and spanning the period from the first introduction of Kodak film to mainland China to the advent of digital photography.

The third project in the exhibition, Daniel Traub’s “Little North Road,” takes its title from the shorthand name of a pedestrian footbridge connecting two parts of a busy commercial neighborhood in the heart of Guangzhou. Here Traub encountered two itinerant photographers who were selling instant portraits to international traders, many of them African, doing business in Gaungzhou. Traub began collecting the digital files from the photographers and developed a collaboration, with complex implications of authorship, and amassing a collection of more than 20,000 images.  The exhibition will include a selection of prints, featuring the work of Traub and both itinerant photographers, and presenting an entirely contemporary visualization of cultural influence in China.

The title of the exhibition, referring to the retrieval process shared by the three constructed archives, describes the intentionally artistic gesture of retrieving photographs as a creative process beyond the simple action of accumulation. Though these projects have been exhibited either internationally or nationally, this will be the first presentation of the work to a San Francisco audience, and as a collective, dynamic panoramic of China in the last century. 

Auxiliary Programming

February 19th, 2016
6 - 8 PM
Chinese Culture Center Visual Art Center, 750 Kearny St. 3Fl;
AND SF Camerawork, 1011 Market Street, 2nd FL
*a shuttle service will be provided between the venues on opening night

with Kurt Tong and Daniel Traub
February 23, 2016, 6 - 8 PM
SF Camerawork, 1011 Market Street, 2nd Floor