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Posts Tagged ‘China’

The Chinese Photobook

February 13, 2015 | by



Cover and interior selection from Pictorial Review of the Sino-Japanese Conflict in Shanghai. Shanghai: Wen Hwa Fine Arts Press, Ltd., 1932. From The Chinese Photobook (Aperture, 2015).

Even with the advent of digital photography, it’s never been easy to publish a book of photographs: time, labor, and production costs ensure that such projects can’t be undertaken casually, at least not well. There’s something inherently lavish in a book of pictures, something that makes the eyebrows rise. A photobook, with its unwieldy trim size, its color printing, and its demanding design constraints, always answers to a grave question of purpose: What does it do? Why did it need to exist? Does it serve merely to bring prestige to your coffee table, or can it act to didactic, moral, or even geopolitical ends? If some publisher’s going to pony up, those questions are less rhetorical than they might sound.

The Chinese Photobook,” a new exhibition at Aperture Gallery curated by Martin Parr and the Dutch “artist-duo” WassinkLundgren, surveys more than a century of China’s rich photo-book publishing history. It surprises both in its complex portrayal of Chinese history and in the depth it gives to photo-book publishing as an enterprise. Read More »


Fine Dining

December 15, 2014 | by


Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro, Refeição interrompida (Interrupted Meal), 1883.

There’s a human-interest story that’s been making the rounds on the “Weird But True” circuit lately. It concerns a restaurant in Chongqing, China, that gives diners discounts based on their weight. Upon entry, customers step onto a scale. As China Radio International reports, “The policy says, for male diners, the more they weigh, the more discounts they are entitled to. If a male customer weighs more than 140 kilograms, then the meal is free.” That’s 308 pounds. For a woman to eat free, however, she must weigh fewer than seventy-six pounds. In other words, the promotion applies to overweight men and very thin women. It’s what you might call the Anti–Jack Sprat Initiative. The exact thinking behind the marketing scheme is not explained.

My family did not eat out very often. When we did, it was most often at one of two places: Pizza and Brew or the Ground Round. (I always agitated for the sophistication of Red Lobster, but I rarely got my way.) Pizza and Brew’s appeal was obvious enough—pizza, and I guess brew—but we went to the Ground Round for one reason only: Pay What You Weigh Night. Read More »

American Grotesque, and Other News

December 1, 2014 | by

William Mortensen’s L’Amour (1932) doubles as the cover of a new book about him, American Grotesque.

  • Don DeLillo rereads his own opus, Underworld, seventeen years after its publication. (“Great fucking line,” he’s written next to “The subway seals you durably in the stone of the moment.”)
  • In the thirties, William Mortensen was one of the most celebrated photographers in the nation—his pictures were “unabashedly theatrical, bizarre, and often louche.” What sank his reputation: a critical tiff with Ansel Adams.
  • The Chinese State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has moved to ban wordplay “on the grounds that it breaches the law on standard spoken and written Chinese, makes promoting cultural heritage harder and may mislead the public—especially children.” (An example of the now forbidden fruit: “replacing a single character in ke bu rong huan has turned ‘brook no delay’ into ‘coughing must not linger’ for a medicine ad.”)
  • While we’re on censorship: In the quest for G-rated moon landings, NASA used to go to great lengths to scrub astronauts’ profanity from its transcripts. In the case of one particularly salty spaceman, they went further—they had him hypnotized. “A psychiatrist put the idea in his head that he would rather hum when his mind wandered.”
  • On the history of fairy tales: “In the coded language of symbol and metaphor they chart the journey from childhood to adulthood. The Russian commentator Eleaser Meletinksji wrote, ‘It is even possible to say that the fairy tale begins with the break-up of one family and ends with the creation of a new one.’”


Miss Subways Reunite, and Other News

October 24, 2014 | by


A Miss Subways ad from 1941.

  • From 1941 to 1976, a group called the New York Subways Advertising Company held regular contests to find Miss Subways, a woman who would appear in glamour shots on posters underground. Twenty-five Miss Subways held a reunion recently. “I thought this would be a springboard for my career, but, instead, I got married when I was twenty-one and had my son before I was twenty-two.”
  • On the eighteenth-century Irish writer Laetitia Pilkington, who “is recognizable as a type that still confounds many people today: an ambitious and righteously angry woman who refused to lose her sense of humor. And she used both her anger and her humor in her writing to spin gold out of the indignities and misfortunes—some of them of her own creation—that followed her all her life.”
  • “I firmly believe that art is a resistance machine. I want poetry to give hardcore thigh burn. As Frost said, no thigh burn for the writer, no thigh burn for the reader. I want to get to that place of cold neutrality where almost anything could work in poetry, though always somewhere obliquely remembering, it’s not all just up for grabs.” Dorothea Lasky and Adam Fitzgerald talk.
  • Is transrealism “the first major literary movement of the twenty-first century”? “Transrealism argues for an approach to writing novels routed first and foremost in reality. It rejects artificial constructs like plot and archetypal characters in favor of real events and people, drawn directly from the author’s experience. But through this realist tapestry, the author threads a singular, impossibly fantastic idea, often one drawn from the playbook of science fiction, fantasy and horror … ”
  • Today in exceedingly, affectingly contemporary displays of loneliness: “A twenty-six-year-old woman from Chengdu, in China’s southwest Sichuan Province, has taken an unusual approach to mending her broken heart: spending a week inside Kentucky Fried Chicken, gorging on the food.”


No One Can Draw Runners, and Other News

October 13, 2014 | by


A Greek vase with runners at the panathenaic games, ca. 530 BC.

  • “Picture a person running. You’re probably picturing [it] wrong. It’s okay, you wouldn’t be alone. It turns out that artists have been drawing people running incorrectly for thousands of years. From Greek vases to drawing handbooks to modern sculptures, even our very best artists can’t seem to get the pose right.”
  • A new anthology’s narrow definition of art: “There is certainly great value in drawing attention to the historical context of a poem. We ignore an essential feature of literature when we lose sight of its power as an artifact of a particular moment, place or era. Still, it is difficult to read Poetry of Witness without quickly sensing that the editors are gaming the system to support their narrow preconception of poetry’s utility.”
  • Censorship in China: great for sales. “Having a book banned in China is often a marketing coup for publishers selling copies abroad. In the age of social media, this dynamic appears to be playing out on the mainland as well … ‘Smothering someone is as good as crowning that person … A ‘smothering’ order is a reading list.’”
  • The art of brand names: What makes for assonant, beautiful, memorable, popular branding? (Pro tip: do not name your company Shpoonkle. It will fail.)
  • Against brunch: “There’s something more malevolent at work than simply the proliferation of Hollandaise sauce that I suspect comes from a packet. Brunch has become the most visible symptom of a demographic shift that has taken place in our neighborhood and others like it … Our once diverse neighborhood now brims with the homogeneity of an elite university.”


Calm Down with Some Landscapes, and Other News

June 17, 2014 | by


Li Shan, Wind and Snow in the Fir Pines, mid-twelfth to early-thirteenth century

  • Robert Frost: the least understood of the great modernists.
  • Marshall McLuhan: the most understanding of early teenagers.
  • I never dreamed of being a dominatrix, as a child might imagine driving a steam train, but when I became one I learned a trade as intricate, and as British, as that of the steam-engine driver.”
  • In twelfth-century China, the Confucian elite knew how to blow off steam: “In lieu of a literal return to nature, court figures would instead purchase landscape paintings and hang them on their walls. When they felt their souls growing jaded and heavy from quotidian concerns, they’d gaze at the lush scenes and transfer themselves into the place of their inhabitants—ink-brush silhouettes holding fishing rods, gathering plum blossoms and sipping a refreshing beverage in a rustic tavern.”
  • “You would think that a theme park attraction called the Palace of Unicorns would be a charming fantasy world. You’d be wrong. Located within Suoi Tien Cultural Theme Park in Ho Chi Minh City, the Palace of Unicorns is a graphic depiction of Buddhist hell.”