If you wanted to become a professional photographer in the Soviet Union, says Victor Kochetov, you only had two options. Either you could work at an atelier producing pictures for books or postcards, or you could work for the press – and both meant conforming to the ideological pressure of the state. Kochetov chose the first option, and through the 1960s he worked as a commercial photographer in Kharkiv, Ukraine, photographing events such as weddings and funerals, and providing images for books on travel.
In the winter of 1988, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, an exhibition opened, triggering outrage. The Perfect Moment, a display of 125 photographs by New Yorker Robert Mapplethorpe, was the most comprehensive show of his work to date – and the most provocative – featuring images he had taken over the previous 25 years, including those of his divisive X Portfolio.
The retrospective came at a difficult time in Mapplethorpe’s life: he was 42, and losing his fight with Aids – the disease that would take his life the following March. Perhaps, for him, this was his final chance to show this expansive oeuvre to the public – most of it shot in his Manhattan loft. But his pristine black-and-white photographs of BDSM scenes, and the sexy, sinewy strangers he met at the Mineshaft sex club, shocked conservative audiences. On a political level, the culture wars in the US were raging.
In November this year, Jimei x Arles International Photography Festival, the sister festival to the renowned Rencontres d’Arles, celebrated its fourth edition in Xiamen, in China’s Fuijan province. With an overall view to “serve as a cultural exchange between France and China”, the annual event hopes to also raise the profile of photography in China by providing a meeting place for professionals in the field and providing a platform for emerging photographers to showcase their talent.
“It is a matter of promoting an idea of culture and art, that is both creative and popular, open to greater audiences but also a site for encounters between creatives,” explains Victoria Jonathan, one half of the creative direction team alongside Bérénice Angremy. “It is also an opportunity to nurture an artistic dialogue between Chinese and European artists and audiences. Ideas travel with exhibitions and art projects. For Arles, it is also an opportunity to have a foot in China and grow a deeper knowledge of the Chinese and Asian photography scenes.”
Three-time World Press Photo winner Lu Guang has been detained by national security offices during a visit to Xinjiang, according to his wife Xu Xiaoli, who last heard from him on 03 November. Lu Guang is a US green card holder whose documentary projects often focus on social, environmental and economic issues in China. According to reports, Lu flew to Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang region, on 23 October, where he had been invited by a friend to attend several photography events. He had planned to fly to Sichuan to meet another friend on 05 November, but on arrival, the friend was unable to find him. Lu’s friend contacted Lu’s wife, Xu, to find out his whereabouts, but she had not heard from him since 03 November. Xu then contacted the wife of Lu’s host in Xinjiang, and was told that both he and Lu had been taken away by national security. Xinjiang is a region that has recently become notorious for tight security controls and heavy police presence, amid widely-criticised operations to tackle what these …
“Just a few days after the opening, soldiers entered the gallery and removed some of the photographs,” says Harit Srikhao, a runner-up in this year’s BJP Breakthrough Awards. The Thai photographer, whose series Whitewash uses the military crackdown in 2010 as its starting point, questions government control, censorship and propaganda. “You are able to talk about politics in public, but if you talk ‘bluntly’, you would be arrested,” says Srikhao.