As a writer and an independent Chinese curator, Joanna Fu brings a unique vision on photography. At the festival DIPE in Yunnan, she had been honored twice best curator : first in 2015 for the exhibition Taiwan contemporary Photography Exhibition then for Hai, Dozo! A New Generation of Japanese Photographers that she curated for 2019 DIPE. Photogaphie.com met Joanna Fu to discover her approach on exhibition design and to apprehend her views on Asian photography.
Interview of Joanna Fu by Didier de Faÿs, 2019.
What is your engagement with photography ?
Joanna Fu: I’m a writer and an independent curator. I have published two monographs on photography, and now my third book on photography is being edited by the publisher. At the beginning of this year, Suzhou Eslite Bookstore, a well-known bookstore in China, listed me as one of the most anticipated mainland writers in 2019. This is probably the biggest encouragement I've received since the release of my book Beneath the Surface: the ecosystem of Taiwanese photography today in January 2018.
As an independent curator, each of my curatorial projects is based on my in-depth research on a certain theme. For example, in 2015, I was honored to be the best curator of DIPE for the exhibition Taiwan contemporary Photography Exhibition. In fact, this exhibition is the final presentation of a three-year long project of mine. I have visited Taiwan many times and conducted research and field interviews for more than two years. I interviewed more than 30 people who are active in Taiwan’s photography circle, including the most active Taiwan photographers, gallery owners, photography fair directors, photography festival directors, photography magazine editors and so on. Based on first-hand knowledge of Taiwan's photographic ecology, I have done a series of writing. I have published those articles on my column in magazines like as Photography World and Chinese photography.In the end, those manuscripts became my second book, Beneath the Surface. It is also the subject of my exhibition at 2015 DIPE.
As a writer, writing has become the main state of my life. In university and graduate school, I majored in journalism and communication. My interest in photography occurred in my freshman year. I was lucky enough to meet the only utopia in my life so far in my freshman year, which was the Photography Team of the university. The happiness accumulated in the Photography Team in university is enough to support me to continue on this path. This has also become an inexhaustible source of energy for my future career. Therefore, I worked in a professional photography gallery in Shanghai for three years. I have also been a regular contributor to China's most professional photography media for more than a decade.
I focus on the unique language of photography, the changes and challenges it faces in the modern era. I focus on photographers who reflect themselves, their society, or the world of the future entirely from their own strong consciousness and creative motivation.
Tell us about the focus on Taiwan and Japan ?
Joanna Fu: My curatorial projects are based on long-term writing and interviewing projects. Such is the case with the Taiwan Contemporary Photography Exhibition I just mentioned to you. I completed a column for more than two years before the exhibition Beneath the Surface appeared. Second, I had a plan to turn it into a book, and when during the publisher invited me to publish the book, I got a curatorial opportunity from DIPE. So I curated the exhibition about Taiwan contemporary photography. As a matter of fact, I have curated two exhibitions to present my project of Taiwan photography. The first was at the 2015 DIPE, which was entitled Beneath the Surface—Taiwan Contemporary Photography Exhibition. The artists participating in the exhibition were all the most representative contemporary photographers in Taiwan. Another is in July 2017, I curated another exhibition about contemporary photography in Taiwan: Face to Faith in the Lianyungang international photography festival.
My curatorial projects are defined not by region but by subject and content. I curated the Japanese exhibition because I wanted to have a more comprehensive understanding of the photography situation of the younger generation in Japan. Because, since 2016, I have been a jury of the Wonder Foto Day (the Taipei international photography art exchange exhibition) every year. In the process of being a jury member, I got to know a lot of promising young Japanese photographers, and two of them appeared in this Japanese photography exhibition. My curiosity about these Japanese photographers made me want to know more. Therefore, I began to pay attention to and study the current situation of Japanese photography. In doing so, I was trying to figure out what a new generation of Japanese photographers were creating in addition to the postwar photographers community that were widely admired around the world. Therefore, the exhibition Hai, Dozo! A New Generation of Japanese Photographers I curated for 2019 DIPE came into being.
How did you work to set these exhibitions ? How did you select the photographers ? Does the subject, the story they tell matter ? Did you build differently the exhibitions of Taiwan and Japan ?
Joanna Fu: When planning an exhibition, I will first determine the theme, and then find the corresponding photographer according to the theme. In the selection of photographers, I will pay great attention to their understanding and expression of photography language. Whether it challenges the language and expression of photography is a key point for me to choose. On this basis, I will focus on the theme they choose, how they use images to reflect their own and social problems. Of course, in addition to the language of photography itself, the themes and stories they choose are important. Because photography has a direct mirror relationship with the real world, it becomes a close link between photographers and The Times. Of course, presentation is also important, and I don't plan for difference's sake. The main reason for choosing different ways of presentation lies in the difference between the image presentation itself and the theme.
Is the design of exhibition important ? How the design can tell itself a story ?
Joanna Fu: I think the content of the exhibition is as important as the design and presentation of the exhibition. In terms of proportion, content and presentation account for 50% each. What and how a photographer shoots and is the most important foundation. However, how to present the works in the most appropriate way to achieve the goal of making the audience understand and resonate is undoubtedly important. I will communicate with photographers repeatedly according to their different works, until finally, there is a presentation scheme that we all agree.
The design of the exhibition of Kenji Chiga relay for an impressive part on graphic design did you handle it yourself?
Joanna: Basically, I would discussions with artists about the design scheme presented in the exhibition. As a group exhibition, I will consider arranging different photographers in different places according to their works. Some works will echo each other, while others will form a contrast in content. As for the exhibition design of each photographer, first of all, I will respect the artist's idea of presenting his or her works. Then, I will discuss with the photographer and make appropriate adjustments. If the final presentation scheme is still not satisfied, I will design the final scheme myself. Kenji Chiga's The Suicide Boom series, which participated in the 2018 Dutch Breda photography festival, had already had a more complete display design. In the hai, Dozo! exhibition，Kenji Chiga’s original design was appropriately adjusted according to the booth I assigned to him. I thought his plan was perfect, so what I did was coordinate with Dali to solve all the technical problems that presented his plan.
Is there in Taipei or with the Wonder Foto Day a special spirit that unite special photographers ? Is the words raw or experimental can be applied to many of the chosen photographers and to the process of you curation ?
Joanna: When I was a jury at Wonder Foto Day in Taipei, what I looked forward to most was the energy and creativity of young artists from Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao, mainland China, Japan, southeast Asia and other regions. It seems that the creation of young people is always subverting and breaking the traditional definition of photography. They all have their own uniqueness in the understanding and presentation of images. Raw or experimental can certainly be used to describe my choice of photographer, and another important point is their response to the current society and themselves with innovative images.
How is Joanna Fu as a photographer herself in this process? Is it a part of your vocabulary to speak about and with photography? You make a portrait of photographers. How is it important to give them identity? Their own photographs are not enough?
Joanna: Actually, I don't think I'm a photographer. I do take portraits of many photographers because the interviews I do with them need to be published in magazines. Because the magazine needs photographers' portrait, I would take portraits for photographers when I am interviewing. But I didn't take portraits of all the photographers I interviewed. I only took a few. I think when you are interviewing a photographer, if you take a picture of them, you can better convey their state at that time.