Reflect The Truth

Reflect the Truth presents work by a particular network of artists: 8 Chinese graduates of the MA Photographic Studies (now Photography Arts) at the University of Westminster, and 4 of their peers. Each of their practices is individual, distinct. Together, they provide an opportunity to reflect on what happens when artists originating in one context develop their work within another, what kinds of affinities they may form with other artists along the way, and what kinds of aesthetic and conceptual hybridizations may occur.

Photography is always a form of translation; in seizing a fragment of the world, the still or moving image translates the chaos of reality into potentially legible pieces. Like any kind of translation, the process may produce an objective or subjective equivalent of what was experienced in the world—it may “reflect the truth”—and it will usually reveal a margin of untranslatability. Sometimes the most satisfying aspects of an image exceed or resist interpretation. Photographers, especially those who have lived in more than one place, have a special capacity to see beyond the expected edges of the frame, and to reflect on reality in ways that have resonance for more than one culture. This form of cultural translation is very much a product of our current moment. Rather than just the movement of art objects or texts from one context to another, it relies upon the movement of subjects, artists whose perception and self-perception is heightened by multiple fluencies. The work made is no longer the product of a national culture, but rather a process of global exchange that creates new meanings and new relationships within the field.

Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben describes “the contemporary” as an elusive concept. In his essay, What is the Contemporary? first published in Italian in 2006, Agamben argues that to be contemporary is to be partially disconnected from one’s own time: “Those who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither perfectly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands.” For if one is completely immersed in one’s present, one cannot be aware of it as contemporary. Similarly, we might argue that the gaps between cultures can only be perceived if we open ourselves to “other” cultures, and at the same time allow ourselves to stand back from our own, becoming sufficiently estranged from our native context to be able to see it as something apart from us.

This year, my book Why Art Photography? has been translated into Chinese. A friend asked me:
“Which Chinese character did your translator use for ‘photography’? You do realise that there are several, don’t you, with quite different connotations?” His words opened an abyss before me, as I imagined the sentences that I had crafted so carefully over years shattering to splinters, their meanings shifting and multiplying into Chinese characters. And who is to say that this translation, this new cultural product, is any worse or better than the version I wrote? Without many years of studying Chinese, I cannot know what new propositions are produced by the translator’s choice of characters, what dialogues it may open.

The title of this exhibition embraces gaps in translation, with the English phrase, “Reflect the Truth” corresponding to the meaning of the two Chinese characters most commonly used to stand for photography. The Chinese title of the exhibition, 君·獗 is chosen to convey the meaning of the English phrase without folding back into the characters for “photography.” This linguistic play is an insider’s game, accessible to those bilingual in Chinese and English, and those who have sought an explanation. The works in this exhibition have different meanings in different contexts. Exhibited together, they produce an intercultural space, interweaving foreign and familiar aspects in their rich exploration of identity, landscape, history, memory, information, language, dreams and magic.



摄影始终是翻译的一种形式;在捕获世界上某一碎片的瞬间,静止或运动的图像将原本纷繁混乱的真实译作了可以被读懂的篇章。就像任何形式的翻译,这个过程在经验世界的基础上,制造了一个或主观、或客观的对等物 —— 这个对等物或许显“现”了真“像”—— 但它更多地揭示了某种幅度的不可译性。有时,一幅图像最让人惬意的部分是超越翻译或拒绝被翻译的。摄影师,特别是有旅居经历的摄影师,有一种超出规定画框之外的特殊观察力,并在多种文化的回响中对现实进行反思。这种文化之间的转译很大程度上是当下的产物。这不仅是艺术品和文字在多种环境下的流传,更仰赖于其主体(既艺术家)的辗转,取决于艺术家在多语言环境下,不断精炼的洞察力与自我认知。艺术作品不再是单个国家的文化产物,而成为了全球化背景下交流的过程,并在艺术领域创造了新的含义与关系。

意大利哲学家Giorgio Agamben把“当代”喻为难以捕获的观念。在他2006年发表的短文《什么是当代?》中,Agamben称一个活在当下的人,是一个与其所在时代部分失联的人:“真正生活在当代,属于当代的人,是那些既不与时代完美契合,又不屈服于时代需求的人。”如果一个人完全沉浸于现在,他就失去了对当下的意识与感知。同理,对于文化之间异同的感知,只有在向其他文化开放的姿态下得以实现;所谓旁观者清。当我们置身于原生文化之外,主动疏离我们熟悉的环境,退后一步,方能将其看清。


本次展览的名字欣然接受了这种翻译造成的间隙,在英文中“Reflect the Truth”与汉语中常用作表示摄影的“写真”二字所对应。而展览的中文名“现·像”传达了英文词组的原意,但不再表示单纯的“摄影”。这是个针对内行的文字游戏,针对那些中英双语者,和那些爱寻找答案的人。本次展览中的作品在不同的环境框架下有着不同的意义。共同展出的同时,他们创造了一个跨文化的空间,原生与外来交织在参展者对于身份、风景、历史、记忆、信息、语言、梦想和魔法的丰富探索中。



Lucy Soutter

Dr. Lucy Soutter taught at The London College of Communication, Sotheby’s Institute and the Royal College of Art before joining the University of Westminster as the Course Leader of the MA in Photography Arts in 2016.

Her book “Why Art Photography?‘ was published in China in November 2016.

Lucy was in China doing portfolio reviews at Lianzhou Foto Festival 2016:

She  also gave a lecture at Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou at 14:25 on 23 Nov 2016 to accompany the launch of the Chinese edition of her book Why Art Photography? by China Nationality Art Photography Publishing House.

The introduction of the book is available online in Chinese: