Artist Statement & Biography

Red by Grace Lau

Statement

Born in London of Chinese parentage, I am a photographer, artist, writer and lecturer. I have exhibited widely, including at the National Portrait Gallery and Tate Britain in London, Photofusion London, Turner Contemporary Margate and Aberystwyth Arts Centre, Wales.

My photography explores the diversity of contemporary portraiture. For me, the traditional representational or literal approach is inadequate. I believe that a portrait can reveal many masks beneath the social face of the subject, and making a portrait is a collaborative process of dialogue and interaction with the subject, taking time to shape the final image/s. An element of personal interpretation is important for me, and this is informed by the context in which my subjects live and pose, being the backdrop to the ‘staged’ event between us.

Research is vital in my work and involves a close working relationship with my subjects’ stories. My intent is to raise awareness of stereotyping and prejudices, to encourage questions and debate; and to respond as an artist to social issues. I am particularly drawn to explore the darker areas of our culture, our history, and our society. I find that there seldom are any ultimate answers, only more questions to be raised.

More

Being Chinese, a feminist photographer, and over 70-years of age, places me outside the mainstream in the UK. Perhaps that position has prompted me to be more interested in the marginalized, the invisible. During my early work around the sub-culture of fetishism, bondage, and sad-masochism, I immersed myself in this scene and joined the underground clubs, parties and events, to obtain close-up documentation of the people, the atmosphere and action. My book Adults in Wonderland published in 1997 by Serpents Tail, recounts this ten-year exploratory project, and includes the portraits of my subjects in performative and theatrical context.

My later work addresses issues of race and Imperialist history, using the example of Westerners’ archival photographs taken in China during the 19th century. I was commissioned by Joint Publishing in Hong Kong to write an illustrated book on this subject in 2004 which is entitled Picturing the Chinese: Early Western Photographs and Postcards of China.

Subsequently in 2005, with an Arts Council grant, I created a portrait project whereby I constructed an old Victorian Oriental portrait studio on the Hastings seafront and invited passers-by to enter for their portrait. Their modern accessories of mobile phones, sunglasses, plastic shopping bags, ice creams, coke cans, etc., contrasted vividly with the historical studio context to give a conflated history in the final image. This signified my own message, that I was projecting an oblique comment on Imperialists visions of the ‘exotic other’ Oriental, and by reversing roles I had become the Chinese photographer documenting the exotic modern Western subjects in Hastings as 21st Century Types.

Technically I prefer using a film camera to digital, as that’s how I learned photography at college. Also, I feel that a film camera can be more creative in terms of the ‘hands on’ aspect: processing films, examining contact prints, and laying out proof prints for editing, cropping and selection. But that’s a personal preference. I acknowledge the over-riding popularity and ease of the digital, but I remain a film-camera photographer.

Grace Lau, 2019

Publications

  • Portraits In A Chinese Studio, 2019, Parakeet Books UK
  • 21st Century Types, 2010, Self published, UK
  • Picturing the Chinese, 2005, Joint Publishing, Hong Kong
  • Adults in Wonderland, 1997, Serpents Tail, UK

‘Selected Exhibitions

  • ‘Seaside Photographed’, Turner Contemporary, Margate & touring – 2019 Group
  • ‘Telling Stories: Hastings’, Hastings Museum and Art Gallery – 2011 Group
  • ’21st Century Types’, Photofusion, London & toured to Aberysthwyth Art Gallery, Brighton and Hastings – 2007 Group
  • ‘How We Are: Photographing Britain’, Tate Britain – 2007 Solo
  • Kobal Photo Portrait Competition, National Portrait Gallery – 1998 Group
  • ‘Art of Chinese (diaspora) Women’, Museum of London – 1998 Group
  • ‘Adults in Wonderland’ – Book Launch, Tom Blau Gallery, London – 1997 Solo
  • Submarine Gallery, London – 1987 Solo

Work

  • Part-time tutor to BA Photography undergrads at LCC, UAL (1992-2001)
  • Part-time teaching Photojournalism at City Lit, London
  • Part-time teaching travel photography at City Lit, London
  • Visiting tutor at Pentonville and Holloway Prisons
  • Visiting Guest Speaker to Art Colleges (Westminster, Farnham, Gloucester, UEL,) also at conferences, at Asia House, Photofusion, Aberysthwyth Arts.
  • PhotoHastings, 2009-2015 – Co-chair and a founding member of the annual festival of photography in Hastings.
  • Annual Kobal Portrait Prize, 2006 – Selected by the National Portrait Gallery to be a judge for their competition.
  • Exposures, 1992-1997 – The founding member of an association of women photographers aimed at exploring and exposing stereotypes around pornography, the ‘male gaze’, gender/sex/identity/fetishism and other representational issues.
  • Signals, National Festival of Women Photo-graphers, 1994 – Steering committee member, Arts Council funded
  • National Sound Archives Oral History Collection at the British Library, London, – Interviewed and archived for three categories.

Collections

My works are held in the collections of the National Portrait Gallery, Michael Wilson, and David & Sarah Kowitz; Overseas Artists Library, South Korea.