Review by Gerhard Clausing •
I had the good fortune to discover Dia Yunzhi Wang at the Photo LA Show in February 2019, at the SoPhoto Gallery (Beijing), managed and curated by Hongjie Ma, eminent photographer and Chinese National Geographic editor. Her work impressed me immediately – she effectively handles the range from contemporary cultural studies to fine art photography. Her artistic and cultural experiences are manifold and substantial – she is not only able to address cross-cultural issues effectively, having experienced three substantially different societies (China, UK, USA), but also has benefited from an excellent graduate education and mentoring, as we can see in the photobook I am discussing here. Dia Wang is firmly in touch with the pulse of contemporary artistic trends.
This project is an excellent example of photographing the world out there to serve as a source of solace for temporary inner turmoil or mood variations, as a kind of meditation achieved through the melding of interior and exterior worlds. Dia Wang writes about feeling temporarily down when she started this project. From her artist statement:
Then one day I decided to start capturing the moments that were soothing to me, so I could build up a collection of inspiration. Avoiding the crowd, the environment ended up becoming my source of power, and I realized that rather than dramatic incidents, the small things were the ones that brought relief to a fretful heart. As I heal and this collection continues to grow, I no longer need to deliberately fish for the moments but see them in normal daily scenes instead. Among all the projects that I have created, this is the only one that I have used black and white film. When I look back, the world at that time felt like a secretive dream, rough, shattered into pieces, but still leaking rosy light from the cracks.
This project continues to be a collection of the moments that allow me to exhale momentarily from the struggles in life.
And indeed, these panoramic images have a calming effect on the viewer. Dia states that they were mostly taken with a Hasselblad Xpan on film, thus yielding virtually twice the perspective of 35mm, displaying a wide-eyed, muted, mysterious effect. There is a dream-like quality to this project, inviting the viewer to linger and contemplate, a roadmap for participating in an exploration. We see abandoned places, very few people, some cultural monuments, and other objects from the past that seem forlorn or forgotten, as perhaps the photographer felt at the time. The wide aspect ratio gives a feeling of searching and longing for something, as the title of the book is also other-directed, inviting the observer to share the experience. The textured cover and the handsome stab binding welcome the viewer to share in her journey.
The French-folded pages, and the technique of occasionally printing one image to continue across the fold to the next page, imply a certain continuity and an eventual arrival at solutions (for instance, nos. 3 and 4 below). And for those who look up Wilde’s poem to read the whole thing, the surprise might be that there can be a glimmer of hope when the turbulence seems overwhelming. The interplay between darkness and light in many images further enhances this optimism.
This project seems to incorporate a number of things relevant to myself and others: courses I taught on “The Outsider in Literature and Film,” books I have reviewed that deal with multicultural implications, such as Somewhere Between by Yip and Yip, and those where art had a healing function for the photographer, such as the exemplary book 10-Mile Radius by Cat Gwynn. Wang’s well-chosen and attractively sequenced set of images covers several important purposes at once and gives the viewer much to ponder.
A very cohesive and creatively presented handmade photobook, a treasure in my collection. I am definitely looking forward to more projects from Dia Yunzhi Wang.
Artist: Dia Yunzhi Wang (born in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province, China; lives in Los Angeles, California, USA)
Publisher: Self-Published, © 2018
Text: English (excerpt from Oscar Wilde’s poem “Vita Nuova”)
Soft cover, printed on Izumo Mingei Mitsumata stock; interior printed on French-folded Niyodo White paper (papers from Hiromi); stab binding, hand-made; 32 pages with 16 images; 8.5 x 11 inches; a conventionally printed edition is also available
Artist book concept and designers: Dia Yunzhi Wang; Thomas Locke Hobbs