Lianzhou's International Photography Festival put the South China city on the photo map - and now it's opening a permanent museum
China’s first publicly-funded contemporary photography gallery is opening in the southern city of Lianzhou in December. The brainchild of Duan Yuting and François Cheval, the gallery will host a collection of Chinese and international photography, and become a site for cultural exchanges.
Lianzhou has developed a reputation for photography in China because of its annual photography festival, which was established in 2005 with Duan Yuting as artistic director. Now the gallery will solidify that status with a permanent exhibition space.
“We already have a large number of Chinese photographers, many of whom are talented and creative; there are also many spaces for artists to display their work,” says Duan Yuting. “But what we don’t have is enough good spaces for photography exhibitions, with museum-level production qualities and good design.”
“Chinese photography needs to be raised in profile,” explains Cheval, who has curated several editions of the Lianzhou International Photography Festival, and who was director of the musée Nicéphore-Niépce in France from 1996-2016. “It needs to find a national audience and international recognition. The quality and longevity of Chinese photography will depend on the support and voices of other institutions.”
First announced in 2014, the museum is an ambitious project, and the founders admit that it has taken some time to get the Chinese government on board. “The most difficult part has been to educate local authorities about the concept of a photography museum, and to convince them to fund the project,” says Yuting.
“For them, a museum is just a place to do exhibitions, and they had already invested a lot of money every year in the festival. It wasn’t so easy for them to understand what it means for the city to have its own museum.”
The inaugural exhibition will present a wide selection of work by Chinese artists, including Zhuang Hui, who is known for making work exploring the relationship between the public and private during China’s New Photo Movement of the 1990s. Work from Scottish photographer Albert Watson will also be on show; recently awarded an Order of the British Empire for his contribution to photography, Watson’s work has featured in Vogue, Rolling Stone, Time and Harper’s Bazaar.
In designing the museum from scratch, both Yuting and Cheval hope to have created a public space for interaction, cultural or otherwise. “We decided with the architects that the museum must become a public centre, a gathering place that local people will actually walk in for no particular reason,” says Yuting.
“Hopefully, some of the locals will one day go to the exhibitions on the upper floors and maybe have fallen in love with the art of photography by the end of their visit.”
The Lianzhou Museum of Photography is due to open on 2nd December. www.lmop.org.cn
An earlier version of this article said that the Lianzhou Photography Museum was to be the first publicly-funded photo gallery in China. It will be the first publicly-funded contemporary photo gallery. A publicly-funded photo space already exists at the Dali Photo Museum in Yunnan Province, which hosts historical photographs of the region.