Wang, Wusheng (The Interview of the Exhibition of Ganjinwajo)

           Aug 03, 2000

The group show "The Photo Exhibition of National Treasure Ganjinwajo "
」ィ2001.8.31 Fri. ィC 9.20 Thu. at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography」ゥ

Sheila Metzner (U.S.A), Bohnchang Koo (Korea), Naruaki Onishi (Japan),
Wang Wusheng (China), Nobuyoshi Araki (Japan), Bernard Faucon (France),
Joan Fontcuberta (Spain), Mike and Doug Starn (U.S.A),Wim Wenders (Germany),Shoji Ueda (Japan)
Named by this museum, TBS TV, and Asahi Newspaper as ten best fine art photographers of the
twentieth century in the world:

Wang Wusheng:

Born in Wuhu City Anhui province in China. Graduated from the faculty of Physics of Anhui Normal University and became a photographer of the Anhui Newsphoto and Pictorial. In 1974, he started taking photographs of the Mountain Huangshan. In 1981 , he relocated to Tokyo and became a research member at the Japan Foundation in 1983. After studied at the Art Institution Nihon University (1983) and the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (1986), in 1989, belonged to the Institute for Comparative Studies of Culture, Tokyo Women's Christian University as a guest trainee. In 1990, moved to the U.S . and spent a year in New York. Since then his energetic activities as a photo artist have been spoken highly. In 1998 , held a solo exhibition titled "Himmelsberge" at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, which is the one of three greatest museums in the world. It was the first exhibition of photography and the first personal exhibition for a living artist at the museum. Such an epoch-making event which run for 82 days resulted in great success by which more than 40 thousand of people came from 38 countries had been deeply impressed. His works are collected at China Art Museum (Beijing), the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and other museums in the world, and many other private collections.

Could you give us your honest impressions of photographing Ganjin?

W.W : My first impression was longing. Longing from years ago. If my memory is correct, I first came to know of him twenty years ago when the statue made a "homecoming trip". The entire country of China was in celebration. News media and other mass media reported the event. That's how I first came to know of the statue. Before then, I hardly knew of Ganjin. After the homecoming, I had always wanted to see the statue someday. So, it was a longing. And also, I didn't have much experience of shooting in studios or of shooting with artificial lighting, most of my work had been in natural environments. Even when I do portraits I prefer using natural light. I like things natural with hardly any artificial touches. So I asked to be allowed to photograph Ganjin in the natural light, however there were restrictions. So, I am anxious to know how it turns out. It was a challenge in a new area.

So you finally met Ganjin whom you had longed to meet. What were your impressions of the person Ganjin.

W.W : I don't know many detailed historical facts about him as I haven't studied him so much. But it so happens that I am also a Chinese and I have lived in Japan for 19 years. Though our personal histories are completely zely different, we share the same fate of leaving our homeland to take root in Japan. There are certain sentiments in me that originate from these circum-stances. When they opened the Zushi miniature shrine [that contains the statue] to show it my sentiments spilled out of my heart and overwhelmed me. To this day I can't coherently explain my feelings at that moment. I was choking with emotions. I thought, "we share the same homeland." And I felt an affinity with to him, maybe, I felt my closeness to him.

When you took photos of Ganjin, did you face it as a statue, i.e. a still-life object, or a person?

W.W : When I was first requested to do this job, I thought that it was 'a chance given to me, maybe because of my personal sentiments toward it, as I just told you. But then, when it came to actually planning the shooting, I realized that I hadn't had much experience in photographing Buddha statues under artificial lights. But I wanted to do it once as a challenge. Why? Because after I arrived in Japan I fell in love with the photos of Ken Domon. I was truly fascinated by them. That was the first time I knew that statues or especially Buddha images look very different depending on the photographer. I learned that depending on the lighting and the angle, the facial expressions of Buddha could be broadly different. I was especially enchanted by his work and I faintly hoped that I would one day try something like that and so I was grateful to be able to participate in this project.

Normally you take pictures of vast landscapes, and that is your area. But this time you photographed a statue in a small room. What was the biggest difference?

W.W : As I said, I like nature. When I take photos of people, I like natural light. I don't like photographs from overly contrived settings, such as photos of models. In such settings, people or models in a way, become lifeless upon entering the studio. They become too conscious of the lights and themselves and try too hard to make themselves look good. Even the best actors and actresses appear to be acting instead of being themselves. Those photos don't show their true selves. And if the truth of the person is not there, it's not photography because, you see, the kanji spelling of photography consists of the characters for "capture" and "truth". No truth, no photographys, I don't call such photos photography. This Japanese word Is truly wonderful "capture the truth" equals photography. The word describes the essence of the medium. In Chinese, photography is "catch shadows", so it's different from the Japanese word. The Japanese word for photography, however, grasps correctly one essential aspect of the medium called photography and the group of artists called photographers. One area of photography allows synthesis and modification but I don't consider that photography. It's closer to painting, or if I may use an offensive expression, it's a type of counterfeiting. Many who visited my exhibitions have exclaimed that my exhibits were amazing work of painting. So I explain to them that they are not paintings, they are photos. Then they feel a stronger impact, because it's the truth. Because the split second I captured in my photo once existed. That's when people feel the impact, knowing that it was not me who created it. They are moved specifically because it is not a painting. This is at once the limitations and the irresistible charm of photography So I want to stick to the truth of the natural truth. There are many photos that are not truth, but the nature is the most natural, least contrived or adorned, and the truest. So, when I do people, I want to capture their truth, their true beliefs. I have almost never done commercial photos. I have been quite selfish because I have only ever done what I wanted to do. Art has been interpreted and analyzed over and over again and I don't know what art is any more. Indeed, what is art? my understanding is simple; It is about being moved. No rationales are needed. At present, we see many forms of art based on theories and ideologies, art with big brains, so to speak. But art is for the general public, it's not for experts only. Take Michelangelo for example, he created pieces of art for the general public. There are certain feelings in our heart that we all want to get across to others. And we want others to share the same feeling of being moved. I think that is the goal of art. Therefore, first of all, my heart has to be touched by something. Then I dispatch my sentiments and emotions to someone else. Art is all about how much of it can I get across. When you want to express your thoughts and your feelings, your means are extremely limited. First thing you think of is words. But the truth is that words can say only so much about thoughts, feelings and emotions. Words are very feeble. So there was the need for art; the need to express your thoughts by other means than words. For example, I can't express 1000/0 what I felt when I saw Ganjin the first time. Not even one per cent of it. That's why I need my art. It is a chance or a challenge bestowed upon me. So, I did my best at the site of shooting and put my best effort into the darkroom process. In fact, more than half of my creative process is done in the darkroom. The most important input to my photography is how exactly I can capture on the printing paper my sentiments at the moment I pressed the shutter release. So, if I use a printing lab, it feels like I disowned the photo. It feels like the photo, or at least the half of it, becomes owned by the lab or the printer. So I have to do it all the way till the very end. The color combination between the subtly different shades of black and white, and the fixation of it on the paper. All of it, I have to do myself. Then, I can feel that I own the work. When we see the same landscape at the same moment, every one of us sees it differently. Visual art is therefore very subjective. Ten people see the same scene in ten different ways and no one other than myself can properly fixate my impressions of what I saw on the printing paper. It is my character, and a part of myself, projected on the paper. The same scene always turns out differently with different photographers. So I want to emphasize that the photographer should do everything, until it is printed.

If you were able to take photos of Ganjin in life, what setting would you choose?

W.W : Good question. As I said, so far, I haven't taken photos unless I was touched by the subject to the point I wanted to take one. Otherwise I don't want to press the shutter release, and I don't. I respect Ganjin very much. If he were alive, I would want to see him many times and learn from him about life, and about myself. Through such communication I would get to know him. Then, and only then, I would be ready to take his photos in the way that satisfies me.

Would you opt for natural light again?

W.W : Although natural light has many advantages, human interference is inevitable. For example, you have to choose the angle and you need to apply some touches that don't make the subject too self-conscious. I can accept that much of interference. When you face nature, you can't even add little touches. One thing you can do subjectively is to wait. You can wait and wait, and choose the best timing. God, or the Heavens, shall I say, show me so many different scenes. Every second is a new world. I can at least wait and search. That's one thing I can do.

This project has invited other photographers as well and in a way it is like a contest. How do you feel about it?

W.W : I was impressed. It's a wonderful project. To organize something like this is very special. I don't know much about the other photographers. I only know that they came from different countries. That they have different set of aesthetics, values, and cultural experience. It is a wonderful idea to gather such artists and make them work on the same motif. Let me explain why. There are the Toshodaiji temple, the image of Ganjin, and the history of 1200 years. These cultural assets bear the historical significance on their shoulders. If you show them in an exhibition, the audience sees them from their own perspective, coming from their individual thoughts and knowledge. It is an individual perspective and not any more than that. But in this exhibition, they can see the same thing from someone else's perspective. It is a cross-cultural experience. How can I put it; it is a gathering of different cultures, value systems, and ethnic groups concentrated into different perspectives. The audience should get a lot of inspiration. Entering the twenty-first century, we all need cross-cultural and international exchange and friendship between ethnic groups. So, I think this exhibition is very useful. The Toshodaiji temple and the Ganjin statue exist as precious heritage of this country's history, and the wisdom of human beings is contained within them. We will enter the twenty-first century next year. We all face the same question of what we should do and how it should be in the next one hundred years. We humans are already facing so many obstacles. It's a mess. It's a grave crisis. One wrong turn and our species will be dead. We are nearing the end. At the longest we only have a few hundred years to live. Scientific calculation tells us so. I am not exaggerating. So the next hundred years are very important for us. If we fail, that's the end for everyone. If we all share this sense of crisis and do something about it, one hundred years from now, we will have the luxury of being optimistic. In these circumstances I hope that every one of us clearly sees the reality we are facing, and quickly finds a basic concept or philosophy to stick with for the next a hundred or a thousand years. This project was very important because it touches on the core of these major issues, the timing couldn't have been better. This project is about looking back on our history of the past 1200 years. In those years you can find precious culture, philosophy, and mankind's assets that have been abandoned by the modern times. By looking back on the past, we should be inspired to construct a new concept and a new paradigm for the next millennium.

I can see an Oriental perspective in your work. Do you think that you fixate the essence of the Oriental culture, whether it is Chinese or Japanese?

W.W : The most important task that the mankind has to tackle now is to create a new set of values. In the past one hundred years most of us have been immersed in the occidental values. It has been wonderful, of course. That is why today we enjoy such material wealth. But the one flaw of it is the misconception of nature; humans can't beat nature. With all our wisdom, we can't completely understand how nature really works. It is a delusion to think that science is an almighty panacea, it is not. It is only one way of seeing the world. From that one particular perspective, what science told us has been right. But it covers only one angle. We should be able to see things from other perspectives. We are from the Orient. We have thousands of years of history, and before Occidental values were introduced, we had had an organized system of Oriental values and philosophy. We were doing well. But when Occidental values were introduced, every Oriental element was labeled obsolete and discarded. But to survive for a hundred or a thousand years more, new sets of values and philosophy are required. The best treasure box to search for these is what we have abandoned; the Oriental philosophy and wisdom. I am from the Orient and I do not feel inferior because of that. The West has its wonders, but so does the East. We are equal. That's how I feel. I am not going to copy sansui [Chinese landscape painting] or sumie [black & white Indian-ink painting], but because I am Asian, I probably have an Asian aestheticism built in my genes. After my years of trial and error, I have arrived to this way of expressing my sentiments. The Oriental elements within me are expressed in my photos. But at the same time, I took in the new waves from the West, especially from Europe. I was educated in the West, and I Iive in the twentieth century, and I have seen completely extraneous and foreign art movements. For example, many say my work is like sumie but it is totally different. The composition is different. And look at the paper and brushes they use in sumie. Those paper and brushes will never attain the strong contrast I want to put into my work. I have to have that contrast to express what touched my heart. I think, after all, I am the product of our time. The dynamic and unmistakable contrast and the subtle gradation are the results of my digesting both the Oriental and Occidental cultures. When I put forth what I am and what my inner feelings are in the form of art, it naturally becomes a fusion of the Orient and the Occident.