2021 Photography World Overview – Part 1

With Chinese New Year soon upon us, we’ve invited notable voices in the photography industry – including collectors, curators, researchers, writers and critics – to share their favorite artists, exhibitions and books from 2021.

Click here to read 2021 Photography World Overview – Part 2

Zhong Weixing, Collector, Founder of Chengdu Contemporary Image Museum

Artist of the Year
Wang Yimo

Young artist Wang Yimo won the 2021 Jimei x Arles International Photo Festival Discovery Award. In her series Theater on Earth, Wang Yimo transformed the ruins of the factory into a theater for collective memory by combining animation, performance and video installations. She is able to fully integrate her own growth experience to explore the interactive relationship between dynamic images and space, animation, drama.

© Wang Yimo, Rhapsody in the World, 2021. Courtesy of the artist

Exhibition of the Year
Ma Liang: Private Myth
October 31, 2021 to March 31, 2022
Chengdu Contemporary Image Museum

Ma Liang’s exhibition Private Myth integrates drama, photography and installation, to present a cross-border, diverse and charming art scene. He does not follow tradition and abandons reality. In this exhibition, he not only created a dream of maximizing romanticism for himself and for the audience but also proved that as long as he embraces other art categories and forms of expression, photography will exert its infinite potential.

© Installation View of Maleonn: Private Myth, 2021. Courtesy of Chengdu Contemporary Image Museum

Book of the Year
Nameless by Zhang Xiao

The artist Zhang Xiao’s series of works Nameless focuses on his hometown, paying attention to specific regions and people. He uses images to reflect the huge difference between the aesthetic appeal of Chinese rural society and urban society. Zhang Xiao’s works often appear as absurd images, but they are actually ordinary portrayals of social reality. As an independent publication, Nameless is more like a complete work of art based on the creative use of the medium of photography and exploration of practical issues.

Nameless by Zhang Xiao

Raffaella Gallo, Collector, Founder of ARTCaffè

Artist of the Year
Nici Jost

A conceptual multimedia artist and photographer based in Switzerland, Nici Jost explores our time, with all its contradictions, variety, and bias, through a pink color palette. When I first came across her art three years ago, I was absolutely fascinated by how, what I considered a cheesy color, actually ignited such interest in this attentive and witty artist.

The reason I appreciate her sharp and technically refined pictures is that they manage to pique our curiosity and point our attention to our society. Which is what a good photographer should do.

© Nici Jost, Sorting Rice, 2018. Courtesy of the artist

Exhibition of the Year
Giovanni Ozzola: I didn’t see you
October 30, 2021- February 28, 2022
166 Art Space

One of the effects of Ozzola’s photographs is the feeling of vertigo they can induce within the viewer: a feeling that comes from the sudden awareness of one’s own weakness.

The intimate solo that 166 Art Space hosted in 2021, which I am proud to have facilitated, is for me the perfect expression of the power of Ozzola’s work. The installation is a continued dialogue between the infinite and the limited, the immensity of the universe, and the moving beauty of minute petals withering on the street. For those in Shanghai: the solo is still on, up to February 28th, 2022. Do not miss the chance to immerse yourself in such a fascinating experience.

© Installation View of Giovanni Ozzola: I Didn’t See You, 2021. Courtesy of 166 Art Space

Book of the Year
Infinity by Astrid Krehan
Publisher: Shanghai Literature & Art Publishing House

In this book, German artist Astrid Krehan shares her journey  into abstract photography, ignited by her passion for the media and nourished by her travels, her life experiences and all the sources of inspiration that brought her to incorporate different techniques into her photographic practice.

Among the many reasons as to why I recommend this book, the chapter Entropy, in the section China’s Modern Pulse captures the chaos that broke out in 2020. I can feel the energy we had to put in to react to this new unknown, followed by the feeling of being stuck in a cage. In a nutshell: I loved this book because of its power to express through stunning pictures all the intense feelings I’ve been struggling with, as a foreigner living in China, in the last couple of years.

INFINITY by Astrid Krehan

Lisa Springer, Photography Curator, V&A

Artist of the Year
Poulomi Basu

An Indian transmedia artist, photographer and activist, Poulomi Basu’s work advocates for the rights of marginalized women using the power of photography and visual storytelling. She also addresses wider issues of environmental and climate justice, and the representation of these conflicts in Western societies. Poulomi Basu explores the unsteady relationship between reality and fiction and how our perceptions of truth are manipulated. Her series Centralia explores a decades-long geopolitical conflict in central and eastern India.

© Poulomi Basu, Untitled from the series Centralia, 2010 – present. Courtesy of the artist

Exhibition of the Year
Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection
November 6, 2021 to November 6, 2022
V&A Museum

A new display of photographs from the Collection, ‘Known and Strange’ opened in the Photography Centre at the V&A in November. The display highlights photography’s power to transform the familiar into the unfamiliar, and the ordinary into the extraordinary. The display showcases new acquisitions and presents some of the most compelling achievements in contemporary art photography from constructed landscapes by Dafna Talmor to Maurizio Anzerie’s embroidery on silver gelatine prints.

© Installation View of Known and Strange: Photographs from the Collection. Courtesy of V&A Photography Centre

Book of the Year
Martin Barnes: Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime.
V&A Publishing

Maurice Broomfield (1916-2010) was a humanist photographer of the heroic and sublime – and sometimes surreal – qualities of industry and manufacture. His work spans the rise of post-ar industrial Britain in the 1950s to its slow decline into the early 1980s. Through his perfectionism, skill and sheer delight in the possibilities of photography, he produced an invaluable record of Britain’s manufacturing past that is packed with artistry and high drama.

Industrial Sublime is introduced by Maurice’s son, filmmaker Nick Broomfield, who this year released the documentary ‘My Father and Me’, which explores his relationship with Maurice. V&A curator Martin Barnes discusses the life and work of Maurice, whom he came to know well as he worked to transfer his archive from his Hampshire home to the museum. He also analyses in more detail a selection of the most important images, many of which are accompanied by memories related by Maurice as he revisited his work. Together they form a monument not just to the might of British manufacturing, but to the dedication, skill and experience of the workers.

Maurice Broomfield: Industrial Sublime by Martin Barns

Isabella Tam, Associate Curator, M+ Hong Kong

Artist of the Year
Robert Zhao Renhui

Robert Zhao Renhui (born 1983) is a visual artist based in Singapore, who demonstrates a conceptual practice with photography and images that is consistently emotionally and visually strong. He founded the Institute of Critical Zoologist, a pseudo-scientific platform, a conceptual umbrella for his critical projects on the zoological gaze. Zhao’s project is a complex construction of narrative that spans multiple years and methodologies – he would engage with scientists to observe and document the mass migration of birds. He disguises himself as a guide to give the audience a walking tour into urban nature. Through these activities, Zhao discovers a narrative on the relationship between human and non-human species, and materialises it in the format of museological display, with archive, object, photography and video. When experiencing Zhao’s work, one would be easily struck by its visual aesthetics, its beauty, and immediately immersed into a conceptual journey about the constant negotiation of the hierarchy between human and nature.

© Installation View of Queen’s Own Hill and its Environ, 2019. Courtesy of the artist

Exhibition of the Year
Yee I-Lann: Until We Hug Again
September 1 to November 7, 2021

Curated by Mizuki Takahashi, Yee I-Lann: Until We Hug Again at the CHAT (Centre for Heritage Arts & Textile in HK) is an unusual yet thoughtful exhibition placing the Malaysian artist’s inspiring image production practice with the shared cultural contexts between Hong Kong and Malaysia through textile.

A champion of manipulating images from found photographs and archives, the exhibition began with Yee’s earlier photo-installations Through Rose-Coloured Glasses (2002/2021 reconfigured) and Picturing Power (series of 8) (2013). In The Orang Besar series (2010), Yee collaborated with Malaysian batik makers to manipulate then transferred historical photographs and Google images that she has gathered onto a piece of batik.

While the work addresses the history of Southeast Asia Archipelago, it demonstrates the artist as a critical examiner of image-making and circulation. Yee’s choice of working with local textile and traditional skill is a prelude to her more recent works, of which she deeply engages with indigenous Sabah communities, weaving images on tikar women mat and wearable sculptures and presenting in the form of video and installation.

This exhibition sheds light on the sophisticated concept behind Yee’s embracement of diverse methodologies in image-making, as a way to untwine the complexity of history, power structure, the relationship between women and craft, and local traditions in her region. While many parts of the world are still in lockdown due to the pandemic, Yee’s philosophy towards diversity and connecting with each other perhaps is a wish that we all share.

© Exhibition view of Yee I-Lann: Until We Hug Again, 2021. Courtesy of the CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile), Hong Kong

Book of the Year
Exploring Reality: A survey of the history of Taiwan photography by Zhang Shilun
Voices of Photography

Chang re-examines and questions historical facts as a way to problematize the existing history of Taiwanese photography to unpack the canon. The book is structured with sixteen thematic topics and is chronologically arranged from the 19th century to recent social movements. The strength of the book is its ability of zooming into previously neglected micro-histories and at the same time, zoom out to the broader socio-political context of Taiwan and theoretic quotations. The author brings to light the complexity and multiplicity of the discourse and the power relations embedded within an image. This book demonstrates a progressive yet open-minded approach to the writing of Taiwanese photography history.

Reclaiming Reality: On the Historical Formation of Taiwanese Photography by Zhang Shilun