Apr 07 2016

Sony World Photography Awards: 11 Chinese Photographers Shortlisted

by Billy Kung

The annual Sony World Photography awards has gathered increasing popularity and the number of entries has surpassed a million since it first launched in 2007. This year’s competition received over 200,000 entries, and surprisingly, 11 Chinese photographers have been shortlisted: seven in the professional category where their works will be judged from a series of images; two in the open competition, based on a single image; and two in the youth competition for photographers under the age of 19.

Perhaps it is not so surprising after all. Since the introduction of open economic policy began in earnest in the 1980s, China has risen rapidly. It is now become the top global economic power, having overtaken United States in 2015. While the speed of transition from a traditional socialist economic model to a full embrace of the capitalist entrepreneurship has been profound, it is inevitable that many social issues such as the protection of the environment; the increasing imbalance of the rich and the poor; and the incessant pursuit of wealth at the expense of moral principles have all taken a back-seat in the mere 35 years since the policy was introduced. It is within this ambivalent climate that some of the participating Chinese photographers have turned their focus.

After taking the first place in the “Lifestyle” category of last year’s Sony competition for his documentation of ethnic Yi people living in the Great Liangshan Mountains, Li Fan, an associate professor of Shaanxi Normal University’s School of Journalism and Communications, returns with two series. In one, Li captures poignantly, children in the region of Western China, left behind in the care of an elderly or relative by their parents who leave their hometown to find work in cities. In another equally compelling series, Li takes a no-frills look at the semi-nomadic lives of the Tajiks living in the Tashkurgan Tajik Autonomous County in Xinjiang, China.

Beijing-based Li Feng, a staff photographer for Getty Images, turns his lens on an industrial company in Hubei province which breeds and trains macaques for scientific experiments. Anyone who has lived in China for an extended period of time knows that animal cruelty is widespread and so deeply entrenched in part of everyday life that it is hard not to miss. This body of work seeks to ask some hard questions on the long contentious issue between animal rights and advances in medical science, economic opportunities and wealth creation. On a similar front, Yong An He’s color images of rural landscapes dotted with erected nets to illegally catch migratory birds further adds to the urgency needed in protecting the fragile ecological balance.

Ever since 1994 when construction began for the Three Gorges Dam in the Hubei province, which spans the Yangtze River, it remains to be a controversial topic both domestically and abroad 22 years on. To facilitate the completion of the world’s largest power station, many archaeological and cultural sites have been flooded and over 1.3 million people have been displaced. In his attempt to trace the origin of the Yangtze, Zhe Zhu’s project titled “Wind and Water” takes him up and down the river visiting small towns as well as big cities, documenting along the way the changes that the riverside environment has suffered.

Among some of the other photographers shortlisted are: Hui Zhang for his images of Tang dynasty tombs near Xian; Maoyuan Cui’s haunting landscapes of the Yuxian village in the Hebei province; Longxiang Xie’s photographs of Tibetan monks at the LangMu Temple in Gansu province; Lijun Wang’s image of a traditional Chinese folk culture practice called “Hitting Tree Flowers” also in the Hebei; and Liu Chengliang’s series titled “Bulguksa.” In the youth category, both Jiaye Li and Hongbo Zhu presented well-crafted landscape images that proved equally impressive.

Following the announcement of the winners in this year’s competition on April 21, all shortlisted photographer’s works will be shown in London as part of the awards exhibition through April and May. In addition, works from the Chinese-Japanese artist duo Rong Rong & inri, will also take part in the exhibit for receiving Sony World Photography Award’s Outstanding Contribution to Photography.

FAN LI, Left-Behind Children in Western China, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Sony World Photography Awards.
FAN LI, Left-Behind Children in Western China, 2016. Courtesy the artist and Sony World Photography Awards.

Billy Kung is photo editor at ArtAsiaPacific.