Simon Vansteenwinckel – Wuhan Radiography

Review by Gerhard Clausing

When a photographer’s viewpoint and methodology are totally in tune with the subject matter and with the tenor of the times, we have a degree of synchronicity that makes the viewer’s experience unforgettable. Such is the case with Simon Vansteenwinckel’s Wuhan Radiography.

The first thing we notice when we receive this book is the unusual cover, a light blue heavy plastic wrapper that gives the appearance of a lab report inside, but something is amiss. The sun shown on it is black, blurry, washed out, there’s Asian writing, the person shown is just a nondescript outline. Are we looking at a strange report from some Frankensteinian laboratory? And what kind of an illustration is that for a seemingly academic contribution?

Then, when we glance at the pages inside, we are confronted with more artful mystery: the pictures of landscapes exhibit an over-the-top graininess and a kind of despondency heretofore seldom encountered; the people where shown seem isolated and/or sequestered, confused, anonymous, perhaps even out-of-place, a merry-go-round of nondescript confusion, definitely without merriment – skewed views. Are those people real or are they a mirage? This is a perfect representation of our mood during the more than two years of ‘social distancing’ and semi-isolation brought about by the viral pandemic that is supposed to have originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan and whose exact origin is still shrouded in great mystery.

Vansteenwinckel was dependent on virtual wanderings, as we all were, and took time to survey Wuhan via his screen. What’s more, he used a film material known as “Washi F” that was originally made for medical X-ray documentation to photograph his impressions of his virtual wanderings around the city of Wuhan. Could this have been any other city? The grainy views certainly reflect the global confusion about how this all transpired. The uncertainty of what is shown or withheld in his images definitely reflects the uncertainty that the world shares about what has caused us these several years of misery. The documentation of confusion reaches a level of mastery in this photobook that adds a modicum of further doubt on all the things that are generally dished out to us daily on a world-wide basis.

The philosopher and poet Johan Grzelczyk has contributed a clever text to this project, printed in three languages, and bound into the book along with map portions, as you can see in the last image below. That text is a fabulous verbal companion to Vansteenwinckel’s images; both hit the mood to be conveyed very well. Congratulations on this project, an extension of “home-alone” creativity to make a professional contribution of the global dialogue, or, in the author’s words, “a fantasized and poetic image, a distorted vision, but also a kind of exorcism, a saving act, a kind of resilience.”

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Gerhard (Gerry) Clausing, Associate Editor of the PhotoBook Journal, is an author and photographer from Southern California

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Simon Vansteenwinckel – Wuhan Radiography

Photographer/Graphic Artist:  Simon Vansteenwinckel (born and lives in Brussels, Belgium)

Publisher:   Light Motiv, Lille, France; © 2022

Text:  Johan Grzelczyk

Languages:  French, English, Mandarin Chinese

Softcover with plastic illustrated wrap-around; 100 pages, paginated; 8.25 x 12.25 inches (21 x 31 cm); printed in France by Escourbiac; ISBN 9791095118213

Photobook Designers:  Simon Vansteenwinckel, Valérie Dussart

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Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s). All images, texts, and designs are under copyright by the authors and publishers.

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