21st Century Types: A Photographic Study by Grace Lau
Photofusion Exhibition 13 July – 24 August, 2007
“Through this project I am making an oblique comment on Imperialist visions of the ‘exotic’ Chinese and by reversing roles, I have become the Imperialist photographer documenting my exotic subjects in the ‘Port’ of Hastings. The question of cultural representations in the archive is highlighted through my constructed tableaux and conflation of history. I have additionally created a unique archive of 400 subjects in a British seaside town during the summer of 2005”.
In response to the Imperialist visions of the exotic Chinese made by Westerners during the turbulent years in China between the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion, Lau has reversed the roles in her photographic study “21st Century Types”, positioning herself as the Imperialist photographer documenting her exotic subjects in the Port of Hastings, South East England.
Creating a studio in Hastings to photograph passers by with her 3-year old Hasselblad camera, her props included the ubiquitous patterned carpet that was displayed in Victorian portraits. The panda rug represented an ironic nod to the tiger and bear ski8n rugs that were popular with Victorian colonialists.
The discrepancy between the historic cultural context and the modern appearance of her subjects is highlighted by the overall formal presentation and by their personal accoutrements such as coke bottles, chips, ice-cream, mobile phones, sunglasses and plastic shopping bags.
Lau’s photographic project began during research in picture archives and collections for her forthcoming book “Picturing the Chinese: through Western photographs and postcards”, in which she explores photography made by Western travellers to China.
Her exhibition “21st Century Types” combines and addresses the politics of cultural representation, the genre of contemporary portraiture and the question relating to authenticity of visual ‘archives’.
Exhibition at Tate Britain in 2007