2020 Photography World Overview | PHOTOFAIRS

2020 Photography World Overview


In the past week, everyone has been busy saying goodbye to the past and welcoming the future. PHOTOFAIRS is no exception. To this end, we specially invited the director of the Fair, curators, researchers, collectors, heads of institutions and other experts in the field of photography art to select and list the artists, exhibitions and books of the year that impressed them in 2020 from their own vision and focus. During the selection process, many experts told us that they barely travelled and checked exhibitions in the past year. But in any case, we hope that this little review will also constitute a kind of folder or collection box of visual experiences that will be carried into 2021. 


Cao Dan
President of MODERN ART / Modern Media; Publisher of The Art Newspaper China & LEAP

Artist: Yang Fudong

Yang Fudong's solo exhibition Endless Peaks at ShanghART Gallery in November broke my bias towards this photography-based artist. With his long-term interest in ancient Chinese paintings, Yang began a new project after the Covid-19 outbreak this year with a newly discovered narrative structure from ancient Daoist paintings, turning a long scroll into several storyboards in the form of a “pictorial film”. In this series, where he combines painting and photography, I was particularly touched by the elegance and simplicity of painting. Yang has always centered his works on the sense-making nature of Chinese aesthetics and explored the essence of human spiritual life from a historical dimension and profile.

Exhibition: Between Mountains, Hills and Lakes

Curated by He Yining, the exhibition uses the geographical environment of Switzerland as a metaphor and examines photography-based artworks related to local society and culture from the various dimensions of geography, mythology, technology and everyday life, shedding light on the reality of an integrated and complex contemporary Switzerland, while revealing the uniqueness of their contemporary image production. The exhibition features seven photographers who are active on the international art scene and leading the way in contemporary Swiss photography, as well as two Chinese photographers who participated in residency programs in Switzerland. The exhibition was on a tour that included a stop in Shanghai ZiWU in October.

Book: He Yunchang
Publisher:hesign International

This 2020 publication is the first book ever published overseas with comprehensive coverage of the work by the renowned Chinese performance artist He Yunchang over two decades from 1998 to 2019, with Ai Weiwei as editor-in-chief, Cui Cancan as executive editor, and He Jianping as the designer. The book took four years to complete, from planning to publication, as it is very difficult to capture the work of a performance artist in a book. He Jianping believes that "the book cannot reproduce the performance, but can only serve to document the artist's journey or his creative ideas". With a large number of images documenting He’s performance, interspersed with eight substantial essays, this book is "thick but not heavy”, highly recommended for anyone’s collection! 


Eugenio Re Rebaudengo,
Collector, Founder of ARTUNER

Artist: Paul Kneale

Paul Kneale (b. 1986) is interested in how the world is constantly translated into a digital language which simplifies, trivialises and depersonalises content and the people it addresses. The artist explores the way in which digital facets of our existence can be manifested and reimagined in the flesh of the physical object.

Exhibitions: Recycling
Time: 2020.10.03-11.29
Place: Glenhyrst Art Gallery

In the past year, Paul Kneale has undertaken various artistic ventures, spanning from his known scanner paintings to neon sculptures, video paintings, 3D renderings as well as AR presentations on Instagram. His latest exhibition, “Recycling” (OCTOBER 3RD, 2020 - NOVEMBER 29TH, 2020 at the Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brantford) was an overview of Kneale’s practice; it comprised of approximately thirty of his works, spanning different media. Starting from his signature scanner paintings, the exhibition featured sculptures, scan transfers, video works, and a room dedicated to a selection of artworks from the artist’s archive."

Book:Luigi Ghirri: Cardboard Landscapes
Publisher:The Museum of Modern Art

The Ghirri exhibition in London was one of the last shows I saw before we entered into a seemingly never-ending series of restrictions and lockdowns. This photo book focuses on what Ghirri called “sentimental geography” across Europe - making the ordinary extraordinary.  It reminds me of when we could travel and fills me with nostalgia.


Georgia Griffiths
Fair Director of PHOTOFAIRS

Artist: Xu Guanyu

Xu Guanyu is my artist of the year.  Winner of the PHOTOFAIRS Exposure Award 2020 his ephemeral photographic installations are potent reclamations of space that reflect on the ideas of who we are, who we have been and who we wish to be.  2020 was a tumultuous year (Covid 19, Black Lives Matter and LBGQTIA+ rights) and for me Xu Guanyu's work acts as a touchstone.

Exhibition: Zanele Muholi
Tate Modern

Zanele Muholi at the Tate Modern - In a year of seeing very little art and so many shows delayed or cancelled I was delighted that I managed to squeeze in the Muholi mid-career survey before London went into its second lockdown. Muholi has been a champion for South Africa’s black lesbian, gay, trans, queer and intersex communities and this exhibition is a powerful and reflective exhibition of their practice.  This exhibition has been a long time coming and is really fantastic.

Book: David Benjamin Sherry: American Monuments
Publisher: Radius Books

In a year of the American election (of which I am a citizen) David Benjamin Sherry: American Monuments is a landscape photography project that I have been focusing on.  I love the artist's work. This project is an incredibly poignant reminder of how the landscape has become politicized and is under threat both from environmental changes and the impact of the 2017 US government orders to reduce national parklands and monuments.  The traditional 8×10 large format of each work captures the majesty of the surroundings.  It is both a tribute and a call to action.  


Charles Jin
A prominent photography collector in China 

Artist: Wang Qinsong

In July, artist Wang Qingsong's solo exhibition On the Field of Hope opened simultaneously in two Spaces of the Tang Contemporary Art Center in Beijing's 798 Art District. Curated by Cui Cancan, the exhibition showcases more than 30 important photographs and on-site works created by the artist over 20 years since 1999. As one of the most important artists in Asian photography, Wang Qingsong has opened another way of telling photography: big scene shooting, shocking vision, easy-to-understand mass aesthetics and common people's perspective, in which multiple languages such as painting, stage and film are mixed. Therefore, this year, I once again listed the artist Wang Qingsong as the most important and noteworthy artist.

Exhibition: The Ark
Fuji X Space

Wang Yishu is a Chinese photographer I am familiar with and highly respected. In my opinion, his works are completely governed by his nature. The biggest difference between his works and many realistic photography lies in the echoing but dissociating relationship between the subjects which create two centers to add a surreal color to the picture itself and also make photography produce a chord effect. Wang's works often describe things that people are familiar with but don't care much about, and the stability or instability of the picture and composition is not important to him. What is important is that he adds a kind of cryptic annotation, which more or less enables humour to exist. Over the years, Wang Yishu's creative standards have maintained a striking consistency, which is inseparable from his years of practice and sensitive shooting. Although I was unable to attend the exhibition due to the epidemic, the pictures sent to me by the curator Jiang Wei showed that the exhibition was very successful and presented a series of new works by artists.

Publisher: Three Shadows Photography Art Center

Jimei x Arles International Photo Festival was jointly launched in 2015 by Rong Rong, a leading photographer in China, and Sam Stauz, president of The Academy of France in Rome and then president of the Arles Photography Festival in France. After five years, Jimei x Arles has become an event that cannot be missed in China. This year Jimei x Arles is directed by gu Zheng, a famous photographic critic and curator. There are 26 exhibitions in total, covering outstanding artists and creations from France, Belgium, Singapore, Lithuania, The United States, Japan and mainland China. The volume and quality are high, and this album is a compilation of the events, as well as an invaluable yearbook archive.

Shi Hantao 
Curator, Photography Researcher, Art Critic

Artist: Yan Yibo

In photo exhibitions, Yan Yibo often makes a gentle presence, just like the well-paced way he talks. He photographs every day and then posts them on social media, citing boredom as the top reason for his artistic practice. In fact, his works are known for their fierceness, with his camera reaching into the louse-covered robes of our cities and times to capture them in spiritual nudity. But he also says: "I'm one of them." He would give a cigarette to his subject, chat for a few minutes, and then send the photo to them by WeChat.

Exhibition: Yang Fudong: Endless Peaks 
ShanghART Gallery(Shanghai)

There are many works that attempt to respond to tradition with contemporary art practice, but few are good. In this project, the artist deals with tradition and his distance from it in a particularly subtle way. We could almost picture him cautiously rubbing and feeling the Arhat statue, responding only with light touches. Yet the artworks take on bold and original forms. For example, in the projections on the second floor, history and tradition flicker like ghosts on the scrolls, blurred, fragmented, intimate and lingering. This feeling permeates the paintings and photographs, creating a dazzling experience.

Book: Asian Family Story
Publisher: Insight Media 

In this autobiographical collection of images and essays, the author examines his Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese identities in the context of the many wars and historical events that unfolded in Asia in the second half of the 20th century for the first half of the book. The second half deals with his intimate observations and accounts of the life and work of two generations of photographers represented by Masahisa Fukase, Daido Moriyama and himself. Several threads of individual destiny, history and artistic spirit are perfectly interwoven and blended in this book with a vision that is high or low at times, and a rhythm that alternates between light and heavy.


Scott Gray
CEO & Founder of the World Photography Organisation

Artist: Mohamed Bourouissa

Mohamed Bourouissa has been an artist I have spent a lot of time looking at this year.  Winner of the 2020 Deutsche Borse prize and former shortlisted artist of the Prix Pictet, I really admire their immersive research-based practice that confronts complex socio-economic issues and for seeking out tensions between different social contexts. Looking forward to their solo show opening at CCA Goldsmiths in January!

Exhibition: Graciela Iturbide
Tate Modern

Whilst this isn't an exhibition I admired this presentation of leading Mexican artist Graciela Iturbide at the Tate Modern.  One of the few exhibitions I managed to see this year!

Book: 2020 Sony World Photography Awards

This year we had to cancel the Awards and exhibition in real life and move our 2020 Sony World Photography Awards book online - it's been great to see how we have reached more people with digital.

Click here to read


Shen Qilan
Writer, Curator, Art critic

Artist: Cao Fei

My interest in Cao Fei this year began with her solo exhibition Blueprints at Serpentine Galleries, which went through the process of opening, being delayed, and reopening as the global epidemic fluctuated. Some of her prophesies have surprisingly become a reality in 2020 - such as the deserted city in her 2014 work La Town. Blueprint, however, resembles a book of revelation covering topics that are particularly relevant to the now.Later in the year, Cao Fei took her experience of home quarantine in Singapore as inspiration for her new artwork, as part of her solo exhibition Isle of Instability at the West Bund Art & Design Fair. It is an unsettling and tense work of reflection with a touch of hope and warmth, as well as a high dose of uncertainty, as a jarring glimpse of the human reality - a life suspended in mid-air.

Exhibition: Jimei x Arles
2020.11.27- 2021.01.03
Xiamen Jimei New Town Citizen Square Exhibition Hall
Three Shadows Xiamen Photography Art Center

The Jimei-Arles International Photo Festival is recommended as an exhibition that brings hope and faith.Hats off to the organizer Three Shadows for holding the Xiamen Jimei x Arles as planned, which in itself is a miracle, when the Rencontres d'Arles (France) had to be cancelled due to the Covid-19 epidemic. Jimei x Arles presents 26 exhibitions, including 6 tailor-made exhibitions, 10 solo exhibitions of artists nominated for the Discovery Award, and solo exhibition Witness (by Li Ge's team), which pays tribute to the medical staff fighting the epidemic in Wuhan. The opening of Jimei x Arles represents a response of the global photography community to the epidemic: as life goes on, art goes on.

Public Park
Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art

Public Park is an exhibition that starts with individual narratives. Situated at Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art, the exhibition focuses on the history and civic life of more than ten parks in Shanghai. As a temporary place for citizens to rest their hearts and souls, parks are like theatres, reflecting social changes and the human world. As artists turn their cameras to parks, they capture the touching moments of our times and stories of humanity. This is not an ambitious exhibition. Nor does it have anything to do with art history or the art market, but viewers couldn’t help but feel their hearts well up with warmth and emotion. It is an exhibition that inspires reflection on whom and what our exhibitions are made for, and the ultimate propose of art.

Book: Freezing Land
Publisher: Jiazazhi

The northeastern land captured via the lens of Chen Ronghui is frozen for thousands of miles, a barren land where people search for a way of living. The faces of the people captured by him, whether they are bartenders or young live-streamers, glow with love and dignity, but also a subtle hint of despair. The book includes a novel by writer Ban Yu, which teems with life and desolation at the same time. Similarly, the State-owned Enterprises with its drab walls and the Ferris Wheel deep in the woods by Chen Ronghui possess the qualities of magic realism that will haunt audiences for a while.


Qi Yan
Deputy Director of Three Shadows Photography Art Center

Artist: Sim Chi Yin

Sim Chi Yin has won the 2020 Jime x Arles Discovery Award and will hold a solo exhibition at the Arles International Festival in France in 2021. As a mature report photographer, Sim's work is mainly known in the field of news and report photography and is not particularly well known in the field of contemporary art photography. The artist has been paying attention to some very important motifs in international reality, and she has the ability to track and express such motifs. She explores a range of issues that concern the reality and destiny of humanity. With both aesthetic and critical standpoint, to face the hidden deep crisis reality, and present it. Her works, which are very complete and visually striking in the scene presentation, also show that the artist has the ability to transform news and reporting photography into the language expression of contemporary art, so from the perspective of artistic language, they are also very persuasive. In general, Sim's works focus on and reflect on the present and future of mankind within the framework of the anthropocene.

Nouvelle Vague
2020.11.27- 2021.01.03
Xiamen Jimei New Town Citizen Square Exhibition Hall
Three Shadows Xiamen Photography Art Center

For photographer Raymond Cauchetier’s 100th birthday, the exhibition presents the sets of new wave directors such as Godard, Truffaut, and Jacques Demi that he shot on set. The exhibition celebrates the anniversary with a collection of his photographic novels and cinematography.

Book: Symposion About Love
Publishers: Three Shadows & AKAAKA

Published in December 2020, Symposion About Love reunites four of Inri's earlier series with the word "love". The book co-produced by Three Shadow and AKAAKA with renowned Japanese designer Yoshihisa Tanaka as artistic director. "Each work is filled with an insatiable desire for expression," wrote Michiko Kasahara, a Japanese photo critic. “It's so strong that it's delivered in a suffocating way." More importantly, the artist's consistent creative concept also appears here, that is, "love = photography". Photography is the only way to discover love, and love is the only concept that gives birth to photography. This concept of photography has also presented richer changes in the 20 years of joint creation by Inri and Rongrong.


Wang Jun
Collector, Founder of Light Society

Artist: Nan Goldin

Nan Goldin is known as the progenitor of an intensely personal style of photography in the history of photography. She remains active in the art community in recent years and has launched an organization named P.A.I.N against the Sackler family and their philanthropic art cleansing campaigns. Following a series of protests, an increasing number of British and American art institutions have publicly refused any donation from the Sackler family. During the U.S. presidential election this year, Nan Goldin co-founded an art sale called the States of Change with 160 other photographers to drive social changes given the uncertain future of the nation.

Exhibition: Nan Goldin
Light Society

Nan Goldin's solo exhibition is the result of six months of hard work by the Light Society, with support from museums and private collectors, to bring original artworks to China in the special year of 2020. The exhibition presents the famous The Ballad of Sexual Dependency, and The Other Side, which documents the experience of the artist as a transgender and homosexual resident in the Queens from the 1970s to the 2000s. As a visual diary of the daily life of the transgender and homosexual community of the time, these works reveal the existence of the third gender, the social problems they were confronted with, and the American society after the energy crisis. From these not-so-beautiful but extremely realistic photos, the audiences will be able to trace back the old life of this artist who has not "gone gently into that good night" even today.

Publisher: Steidl/The Walther Collection

AUTOPORTRAIT is a collection of the artworks of the Nigerian photographer Samuel Fosso from different periods, from his early black-and-white self-portraits in the 1970s to his vibrant "Tati" series. These diverse artworks reveal to us how Fosso deviates from traditional studio photography in West Africa. In his unique style of selfies and performance in front of the camera, the artist discusses changes in sexuality, gender and identity in the post-colonial era.


Curator of The Museum of Photography Seoul

Artist: Seungwon Jung

Seungwon Jung provides us with so exciting opportunity to look into how wisely and deliberately one can verify flexibility and potentiality of photography with searching for contact points with another medium. Her practice includes sculptural fabric works and photographs transformed into wide range of textiles. She has focused on the intersections at which digital language and coding, the core of contemporary photography meets with textiles and craft, more traditional processes. And has elaborated her own visual language reflecting the mediums’ crossings and potentiality that could operate from this point. For her, both textiles and photography are not merely the plane, but three-dimensional sculpture. Just as a long thread can be a piece of fabric or a skein according to how it forms and accumulates intersections, an image, a group of pixels can be in any shape. For her, they both are in ‘flux’. I believe Seungwon Jung’s work is certainly one of inspirational answers to ‘what we can do with photography this time’.


Yuan Xiaopeng
Photographer,Founder of Same Paper

Artist: Buck Ellison

American photographer Buck Ellison takes the privileged life of the American as the background to present W.A.S.P. (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants, a group with huge economic and political power, constitute the majority of the upper and middle classes in the United States.) through his photography. Like a stage play, the secret life of The United States has got exposure to the public. These seemingly boring standard formula, with its power and irony, is one of the most radical denunciations of the solid social structure of white American society in recent years.

Exhibition: Today Is The First Day

WIELS has opened a new chapter for 2020 with a major solo exhibition "Today Is The First Day" by German artist Wolfgang Tillmans. The exhibition, which runs from early January to the end of May, includes the artist's work over the past three decades and focuses on the latest developments in his artistic practice contain his multi-media works using images, music, videos and installations, as well as works of art that have never been seen in public.

Book: Still Life
Publisher: Same Paper

Still Life is a collection of photographs jointly completed by 13 photographers. The title is a metaphor for the reality of continuing to live in difficulties -- in the context of global disasters, we are all in a relatively static state. In a response to the moment, Same Paper invited 13 photographers. When photographers are caught up in the constant battle with boredom and anxiety of reality and lack the trigger mechanism to take pictures in their life, what else can they take pictures of? Will photography still happen?


PHOTOFAIRS applications are now open, please find more here.