Zhuang Xueben (1909-1984)
I remember one afternoon walking around a plaza when I came across an exhibition showing black and white photos that piqued my interest. These were powerful close-up pictures of faces that drew the onlooker to take a second look. That was the first time I came across the Chinese photographer Zhuang Xueben. His pictures had a special quality of sensitivity and thoughtfulness about them. By now I was intrigued and noted down, from the exhibition, information about Zhuang and his photography. I’m sharing them here for those who are interested in photography and a little about Zhuang Xueben.
Sanctity and dignity – these are the descriptions often to describe the late Zhuang Xueben’s portraiture photographs.
His close-up pictures of members of various ethnic minority groups wield such power that the viewer is moved, if rather inexplicably at first, into pausing to contemplate the striking tranquility and beauty on the faces of these people. Almost invariably, his subjects look notably at ease and display the same serenity and elegance, regardless of their social status within the community.
Zhuang is able not only to close the distance between the subject and the photographer – two strangers, as it were – but also to draw out the personality of the people and to encourage them to communicate with the camera. This ability is testament to his long exposure to, and deep understanding of, the different ethnic groups, their individual traditions, and unique characteristics.
Ultimately, despite the fact that Zhuang’s pictures were said to have been more for the purpose of anthropological record, their artistic value and charm have transcended space and time to strike a chord in the modern viewer.
Zhuang Xueben’s portraits were unique in that the characteristics of the border tribes of that era were distinctly perceptible – by looking at these faces as presented, one senses the social conditions and prevailing attitudes of the 1930s. Perhaps the essence of that distant period may not be easily understood now, but the skill of the master photographer cannot be denied.
If you interested in photographers from China, there’s a link that features an interesting collection of their work http://www.fotocn.org/