• STELES - Christopher Taylor Photography Exhibition
    Artist: Christopher Taylor
    Essay: Fan Lin
    Opening: 2009.05.30 / 16:00
    Duration: 2009.05.30 - 2009.07.10 / 10:00 - 18:00
    Venue: OFOTO Gallery. 2F, Building 13, 50 Moganshan Rd., Shanghai

    Deciphering The Stele
    Fan Lin

    In my earliest experience of reading, a fixed purpose may not be established, however I must still venture to express it. I have yet to meet a foreigner capable of delivering such a clear, succinct and affirmative description of China. Of course, certain works in the history of fine art must be ruled out. However, despite those artists’ exemplification of strong cultural attitudes through alternative forms of expression, they do not often touch people’s hearts and minds. Whilst the term ‘Exotic Culture’ is in regular usage, its very easy for anyone , ourselves included, who have undergone cultural experiences whilst travelling to take the opportunity to show off the singular nature of these experiences. Those people who, following a hasty examination, like to indulge in a little self-flattery, usually approach the abundance and complexity of culture with a low guard.
    Indubitably, in the context of Chinese culture and history, ‘Steles’ is a word of deep significance. This form of engraved writing on the stone surface originated in the Qin and Han Dynasties. The Emperor of the Qin Dynasty successfully preserved carvings, establishing the engraving of upright stone tablets as a common practise. Since the Eastern Han Dynasty, the quantity of upright stone tablets has gradually increased. Providing an ultimate eulogy, steles became a kind of support. Although people study history or meditate on the past, steles are more solid and reliable than history books. The truth behind the stylized history of the sentimental writings of the exploiting classes are condensed into a few lines of script on the surface of the stone. We are guided by the sense of yearning for the confirmation of our own history. Conversely, usually due to the dignity and imposing nature of the steles, we can look forward to a fresh sense of self springing up to assist us to discover more features of our abundant original history.

    In reality, Christopher Taylor, a photographer who trained as a biologist, has extremely cleverly employed this word ‘Steles’. He has captured the sense of history of the Chinese culture; its regard for essence, its regard for the substance of the spirit. The people who live in this land have reached and captured this word ‘Steles’. When viewing the scenes through his lens, the device seems to grasp the key to a frame of mind. We become completely silent and follow this.

    Before Christopher Taylor’s series, Steles, we had already seen many extremely influential Western photographers’ records and descriptions of China. In the midst of so many people and works, these became the lens through which the world viewed China, an aid to reference. The starting point for this aspect of history can be traced back to shortly following the discovery of the photograph and has been consistently extended up until the present day. Amongst these inquisitive photographers tirelessly searching for novelty, many can be described as photographers who through their records and deconstructive analyses, negatively influence different cultures. Resembling old-school photographers, Christopher Taylor chose to travel across China at will, pressing close to the feeling of life, objects, the substance of the natural environment and social conditions. The different is that he does not at all ‘positively’ adjust his position in order to pander to the tastes of viewers with a passing curiosity. He embodies a state of calm indifference.

    All of the compositions in the series Steles are located within a state of awareness both passive and incisive. These are not possessed by fine art, …especially the traditional descriptive form of Western art. The precise nature of this examination, this treatment of the scene, evokes in the object of Christopher Taylor’s shot a lasting state of intoxication. Even though the elements of the image in the photograph have been selected or retrieved, no alterations have been made to the composition or colour. We are attracted by a creation manifesting significance. Just as the world in its essence possesses unlimited originality, one can only rely on a decent lens to allow this originality clearly to appear and be set within. To paraphrase Susan Sontag, ‘photographs are captured experiences. The camera then is the ideal instrument to make us aware of the state of affairs detected.’ The existence of detail, line and luster are all in order to construct a consistent stillness and silence. Those common scenes and objects embody respective textures. Their singular existence becomes timeless and universal reminding us of our reality; that our attitude towards life is unchanging, even if this instant in time has already been consolidated.

    In Christopher Taylor’s images, this state of intoxication becomes integrated into a form. Although we cannot visit the site of the steles as spectators, we are still made strongly conscious of its strength. At present, my heart expresses its sincerest gratitude to this kind of travel, which in the midst of the spirit of reticence, leads us through the world.

    Translation: Nicola Kielty