on liu yuan's works

Taj Forer

Liu Yuan’s 2008 photographs, made through the window of his sleeper car compartment while traveling across the railways of North Korea, depict relatively mundane agricultural landscapes…

Never before have we seen an expansive body of images depicting North Korea’s rural cooperative agriculture and housing systems. Never before have we, the non-North Korean audience, gained access to visual representations of the political, social, and economic structures that dictate the practice and reality of daily life for millions of North Korean families.

(From the preface to “Red Land,” shown at The New York Photo Festival)

Michael Itkoff

I asked myself, “What do I know about North Korea today, more than half a century after the division into North and South?” We could intelligently respond, “Nothing, but let’s Google it…” In the end, we would answer that, both in the almighty online search engines and in the minds of the Western world, North Korea is a blank. We cannot even imagine North Korea, because we have no images to associate with this mysterious country.

Liu Yuan’s exhibition “Journey to North Korea” does not promise to be expressive or scandalous. Yet, it invites our attention, to look, see, discover, and understand. For a Lithuanian public, especially people having lived under Soviet rule, even the tiniest of details activate long conversations and 
saturated memories.

(From an exhibition text for “Journey to North Korea”, Kaunas Photo Festival)

Ma Xiaolin

As a freelance photographer, Liu Yuan is free from political restrictions. This set of photos complements and improves my impressions of North Korea, and enriches my knowledge of daily life in the country. Therefore, these photographs are a rarity, representing a new frontier in images of North Korea. Beyond photographic technique, the photos are very valuable because they help viewers learn about North Korea and correct false impression

(Excerpted from “A Photographic Breakthrough in Viewing North Korea”)

Song Jianmin

It’s a shame that all Liu Yuan could bring back from Cuba were one hundred photographs and a thousand character essay. In truth, these things instantly make me revisit countless lost emotions…

When I look at Liu Yuan’s pictures of Cuba, I often link them to China. For example, the streets of Cuba remind me of a small town in south China. The exuberantly-dressed Cuban woman with a thick cigar evokes old northern Chinese lady smoking a long pipe.

The Cuban students lined up along a street call to mind yellow-hatted Chinese students waiting at the crosswalk. A strange little car in near an ancient-looking wall in Havana is reminiscent of tuk-tuks on the outskirts of Beijing.

(Excerpted from the preface to “Wandering in Cuba”)

Wang Zheng

At first glance, Liu Yuan’s work looks simple and casual, but on closer inspection, you will find unusual diligence. He said, “I wanted to photograph everything in the world that I had never seen before, and I’m happy to share these things with everyone.”

(Excerpted from the curator’s text for “Distant Views: Cuba and North Korea” at the 2009 Lishui International Photography Festival)

Yang Dazhou

Many people of our generation are fascinated with the Soviet Union, as well as Russian literature and art. We loved Leo Tolstoy, Ilya Repin, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and Quiet Flows the Don, My Universities, and How the Steel Was Tem-pered. We were also very familiar with Katyusha, Hawthorn Tree, The Path, 
and Troika…

This was true for me, and this was true for Liu Yuan. Therefore, he dreamed of traveling to Russia for about fifty years, but had not found a way to go. Finally, in July 2008, Liu Yuan made the trip happen.

(Excerpted from “Comrades, Let Us Raise a Glass”
the preface to “Journey to Russia”)

Li Mei

Liu Yuan has made his name a sat ravel photographer; he brought Josef Koudelka’s “Prague in 1968” with him to Prague… Liu Yuan is constantly traveling, and he has been to more than 70 countries. His whirlwind travels mean that his pictures have a special urgency. His goal is not artistic expression. He has one simple desire: recording and sharing everything he sees. Liu Yuan’s actions seem to come from a living scar left by the restrictions of our country. The majority of Chinese people bear these kinds of scars.

Everyone pursues freedom in different ways, and Liu has pursued freedom no matter what. He feels compelled to pursue freedom and rebel against outmoded narratives and emotions that are so hard to leave behind because they are carved in the depths of our hearts. In looking at his pictures, I discovered that the effects are even better when he takes the picture without thinking. Where does this anti-photographic method come from? It might come from the tenacious pursuit of freedom, or it might be a habit formed over many years of hurried travel. In Liu Yuan’s work, I feel that the functionality transcends the artistry. He does not need to complete a grand masterwork, because he understands his abilities and limitations. He simply wants to use his camera to free himself, and he has managed to do just that.

(Excerpted from the editorial notes for Memories and Expressions: A Documentary Account of a Journey in Europe)

Duan Yuting

In his many years of travel, Liu Yuan has used his camera to express his views on the world. He has always had a simple yet grand desire, which is to use his camera to view the world through the eyes of a Chinese person. Therefore, he has gone to many countries, and he’s even been to the north and south poles…

He uses a free and natural language to express his ideas, and sometimes this language seems to have no composition whatsoever. When he works with curators and critics, they often try to help him improve this visual language, but no one has managed to change him. He seems to raise his lens whenever he pleases, dissolving the omnipresent and opinionated observations of documentary photography.

(Excerpted from the Landscape of Will)

Jin Yan

People very seldom stop to take a close look at the places they travel to see. Even though few people look deeper, the majority take pictures of natural landscapes, human geography, and exotic cultures. There might be few stunning pictures or moving words among them, but the focus of attention is still the promotion of the tourism industry. However, a small number of photographers, such as Liu Yuan, Wang Xiaoping, and Li Mei, have created distinctive bodies of work about Eastern Europe, which rethink Soviet socialism and trace the last vestiges of World War II. These two big themes best represent the responsibilities and burdens of the people of Eastern Europe, making the pictures and essays in A Documentary Account of a Journey in Europe are exceptional.

The nearly two million square kilometers stretching between Western Europe and Russia is home to dozens of ethnicities and nearly 200 million people. There are currently 21 countries in the region, which, for many years, were part of the “socialist family” led by the Soviet Union…

Until the dissolution of the Soviet Union, we simply referred to this system as “socialism,” but we now call it the Stalinist model. As the final First Secretary of the Polish United Worker’s Party, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, said of the Soviet model, “In this system, there is no freedom, and there is no justice.” The Soviet Union simply relied on forcible military suppression. The fresh experience of totalitarianism inspired greater resolve among Eastern Europeans; the Hungarian Uprising in 1956, the Prague Spring in 1968, the rise of Solidarity in Poland and East Germans climbing the Berlin Wall in 1980 all represented Eastern European attempts to depart from the Stalinist model. In their view, 1989 was the true end to the Second World War. Although the road was far from smooth, this new future has been worth it. The pictures and texts in this catalog are a reflection of their morals and motivations.

(Excerpt from the preface Memories and Expressions: A Documentary Account of a Journey in Europe)