Preface to "An Album of Shao Jiaye's Photos"

Recently, Shao Jiaye, a famous landscape photographer, has sent me copies of his photographs, and told me that Liaoning People’s Publishing House would publish an album for him. I am honored to take this opportunity to write a preface for the incoming book.

First I want to say something about the Shao family. Shao Jiaye’s father, Mr. Shao Du, was also a famous photographer in China. I can still remember that at the end of Spring, 1987, I wrote an article entitled Real Feeling with a pseudonym Lu Chunye to introduce his achievements. The article was published in a bimonthly magazine named China Photography (the third issue of 1987). Now his son, Shao Jiaye, his daughter, Shao Xianbin, and his grandson, Shao Dalang, have carried on his cause and have made great achievements in this field. So by now, the Shao family is well worthy of the name as a family of photography.

I would say, to the author, the publication of an album is the fruit of labor and efforts; yet to the reader, he can not only enjoy the beauty, but also be enlightened. As for Shao Jiaye’s photos, everyone who sees them would say they are beautiful and unique. The beauty includes the beauty of the form, the beauty of the imagery and the beauty of the content, while uniqueness lies in local style, national feature and artistic genre. It’s a pity that I could not see more of Shao’s works, so that I could not make a deep research on his aesthetic ideal, artistic tendency, thoughts of creation and techniques of expression. Based on the photos at my hand, I will speak out my impressions of them from intuition.

Firstly, Shao Jiaye is an expert in finding the beauty. Most of his charming pictures are of the very common scenes in his hometown. In this album, about twenty pictures are of the same unknown river--- Nanxijiang River, but none of them repeats the view or expressions of the form of another. It is rare that a photographer can stick to the point of “no repetition of others and at the same time no repetition of himself." All this conforms to Shao Jiaye’s views that it is not necessary for a photographer to visit famous mountains and rivers in order to produce a masterpiece.

Rodin Auguste, a famous French sculptor said that beauty lies everywhere, to human eyes it’s not the lack of the beauty, but the lack of ability to find the beauty. With his sharp eyes, Shao Jiaye always finds the beauty in the very common and familiar objects of nature. He says: Every time I see the scenes around me, I find them different. It’s true that one finds the beauty not only with his eyes, but also with his heart. However, the eyes are windows of heart, which are the main sense organs to understand and appreciate the beauty.

Secondly, Shao Jiaye is an expert in expressing the beauty. To a landscape photographer, the most important thing is to express the beauty he has found artistically and sublime the beauty of nature to the beauty of art. Generally speaking, nature beauty caught by eyes is only intuition image which still remains in sesorimotor stage. Only through elaborate cross action of concrete thinking and abstract thinking and delicate process of choosing, accepting and refining the objects can imagery of the beauty come into the photographer’s mind. At last by using forms of the beauty, the photographer express the beauty of the content and the beauty of the artistic conception in an artistic image--- the picture.

Shao Jiaye is well familiar with the creation laws of photographic art. At first, he stresses the beauty of the form of his pictures. The elements such as light, shadow, color and lines are actively arranged according to symmetry, contrast, and rhythm to construct a harmonious and beautiful picture, for example, line beauty of Silver Chain on Golden Sands, color beauty of Autumn Beauty .... Furthermore, Shao is good at making use of nature phenomena to exaggerate the beauty of pictures, such as misty beauty of Warm Mist in Spring Mountain and wonderful beauty of Merging Splendor. Moreover, Shao Jiaye treats color film and black/white film equally. He used color film in the Rising Sun Shining upon Grotesque Peaks, while used black/white film in Mist-Blurred Mountains. The purpose is to give full play to the respective advantage of color film and black/white film to enforce the expression power and artistic appeal of the picture.

In landscape photography, the beauty of the form has its relative independent aesthetic meaning and plays an active role in the formation of the beauty of the imagery and the expression of the beauty of the content and the beauty of the artistic conception. When he took pictures of Oujiang River, Shao Jiaye always made use of misty beauty formed by rain, mist, cloud and smoke, transferred from real images to virtual images, then formed an artistic imagery in his mind, at last expressed in his pictures an unconventional artistic conception. The same is true with his pictures of Nanxijiang River. He chose those twisted river courses and luxuriant mountains to create peaceful and remote imagery, which was expressed in his pictures as an artistic conception full of life. So the beauty of form in Shao’s work is mostly spiritualized and meaningful.

Thirdly, Shao Jiaye pays much attention to emotion experience. Maybe those beautiful mountains and rivers in his hometown have endowed him with wisdom, exerted a favorable influence on his personality and given enlightenment to his heart, he has endless love for every mount and river, grass and wood around him. He is so attached to them that he seems to be a lover of them. To magnificent nature, he no longer remains merely on appreciation and appraisal. Through observation and experience, he has not only found its form, but reached its spirit, which is to say, he has personified and spiritualized objects of nature. So to him everything in nature possesses certain affection, character and spirit. It is because of Shao Jiaye’s deep affection for nature that his pictures are neither geographical maps to show some towns and cities, mountains and rivers, nor tourist maps to give idea on certain scenic spots, but works with specific artistic conception to present the ever-changing aspects of nature beauty: mist-blurred mountains or shimmering water, sprouting willows or ancient trees, misty morning or golden dusk.... Shao Jiaye conveys his deep love for nature in these personified images of nature.

Fourthly, Shao Jiaye put emphasis on carrying forward national art tradition. The photographic art has a short history since its introduction from foreign countries to China. So someone takes it for granted that Chinese photographic art has no relation with the national art tradition. Yet Shao says, “I like Chinese classic poems which exert great influence on me.... They teach me how to use concrete thinking and photographic techniques to express an artistic conception.? His artistic practice has strongly refuted those national nihilists?viewpoints. It’s a fact that photographic art is an import and all photographers in China live in contemporary times, yet to a certain extent, they are influenced by thousands of years of national culture sense and art tradition. So the national aesthetic theory and art tradition can obviously be traced in Shao’s work. In Shao’s expression techniques, he combines closely the western techniques with traditional Chinese techniques. On one hand, he takes pictures of real images according to western tradition; on the other hand , he expresses his feelings through pictures by using the traditional Chinese techniques, making his pictures full of feeling and implicit meaning. Moreover, in his composition skill, based on western composition laws like golden section, Shao skillfully made use of methods of traditional Chinese painting like void and real, thin and thick, implicit condensation and succinctness, but completely presented the charm of monochrome film. Shao Jiaye’s creation of contemporary artistic conception leads him to the success of making the past serve the present and foreign things serve China. Through his pictures one can feel the beauty of nature, understand how nature and man affect one another, and feel Chinese people’s deep affection for their motherland.

In a word, personal style is the unique characteristic of the content and art forms as a whole, which is reflected in a photographer’s works. It’s a symbol whether a photographer has become mature in his art creation or not. Meanwhile, it’s the general reflection of a photographer’s thought tendency, life experience, affection, personality, aesthetic taste and artistic accomplishment. In this sense, we can regard peace, nature, fresh, classic, real affection and deep meaning as Shao Jiaye’s relatively stable art style, which, to a certain extent, reflects his personality and his aesthetic views that nature and man affect one another and that world and man are in harmony.

Yuan Yiping
Beijing, June 1993

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