Grace Lau | 21st Century Types: A Photographic Study
21st CENTURY TYPES: A PHOTOGRAPHIC STUDY
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.”
Grace Lau’s photographic project began during research in picture archives and collections for her book “The Chinese: Early Photographic Representations” in which she explored photographic portraits made by Westerners during the turbulent years in China between the Opium wars and the Boxer Rebellion. 21st Century Types combines and addresses the politics of cultural representation, the genre of contemporary portraiture and the question of visual “archives”.
During 2005, Lau set up a studio in Hastings, South East England, to photograph passers by with her 30 year old Hasselblad camera, using colour negative film and natural ambient light. The props included an exotic painted backdrop, antique Chinese furniture found in local junk shops and the ubiquitous patterned carpet that was displayed in Victorian portraits. The panda rug represented an ironic nod to the tiger and bear skin rugs that were popular with Victorian colonialists.
Lau found people were intrigued by the exotic studio setting and collaborated willingly when she asked them to create formal poses, as in Victorian portraits. 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.
The exhibition at Photofusion includes Lau’s studio portraits taken in Hastings during 2005, a selection of archival vintage portraits from the Michael Wilson Collection, and a number of Victorian postcards from her personal collection depicting the Chinese.
Four portraits from 21st Century Types are included in the exhibition ‘How We Are: Photographing Britain 1830s to the Present’ at Tate Britain, curated by Val Williams and Susan Bright, from 22 May – 2 September 2007.