A New Documentary Storm that Pierces the Soul
I have been a judge for many photography prizes and I have organized numerous photography juries and other events, but the Inter Art Center New Documentaries Prize still put a lot of pressure on me.
In a Chinese photography world in which documentary work is not valued or is considered overly conservative, what does it mean to announce a new documentary photography prize? I silently asked myself this question as others looked at me with doubt and as I began to plan the judging and the exhibition.
Yes, in the wider world, documentary photography is still the mainstream and still plays an important role. In contemporary China, which most needs recording and documenting, why do some say that documentary photography is no longer important? Rapidly-changing contemporary China is paradise for documentary photographers.
So, in “the best of times and the worst of times,” what kind of documentary photography do we need?
At the beginning of the call for entries, I wrote, “The Inter Art Center New Documentaries Prize is to discover, encourage, and provide support to lens-based artists concerned with social change and minority groups, and offer opportunities to creatively expand the boundaries of documentary photography.”
After the call for entries was issued, we were gratified to see that almost all of the best young documentary photographers in China today sent work for the prize.
Late at night on March 13, 2017, after two days of judging, ten finalists were produced, and sadly a few outstanding photographers were not included in the list. All ten of these photographers could have won the prize, because they truly are excellent.
Finally, rounds of discussion and debate resulted in one photographer rising to the top. Yang Wenbin, a photographer just twenty years old and still in university, won the grand prize at the Inter Art Center New Documentaries Prize. He also receives a 200,000 RMB cash award to continue his photography series Society of University. Wang Jiuliang, one of the judges, noted that, while Yang is not necessarily the best photographer, we decided to give the prize to a young person because it would create future possibilities.
The grand prize has been awarded, and I can already sense that our selection will cause significant controversy.
Controversy is good. Decadent, boring, and depressing Chinese photography has long needed a storm, a new documentary storm that pierces its soul.