Shortly after Yang Yankang was awarded the “Prize of Creation” of the 1st“Shafei Photography Award”, I accompanied him to the School of Broadcast and Design of Zhongshan University to give a lecture to the students there. I still remember the enthusiasm from the students when Yang Yankang’s photos appeared on the screen, and those on the subject of misery aroused special interest. In an answer to a question, he talked about his preference for that subject. In his view, the meaning of misery is undoubtedly closely related with faith. Or, in other words, it is because misery exists everywhere that faith is worth eternity. The students might not understand what he said, but when these young people born after 1980 and brought up in a well-off environment have a chance to see misery in reality with their own eyes, and begin to catch the meaning of faith through misery, I think Yang Yankang’s work will reach its destination which is to transcend life through misery.
It is a legend that Yang Yankang entered the realm of photography. I certainly don’t want to tell his success story in a cliche version. In my opinion, what supports Yang’s continuous work is a faith from deep inside, just as he himself has repeated, a special “preference” for misery, a hope to dig into humanity through facing and picturing misery, and to establish a dignity that belongs to each individual, especially to those who live in misfortune and misery for a long time. It is this long-term goal that has pushed him from one misery to another including patients of Hansen’s Disease, wanderers, Shaanxi Catholics, and the grassroots existence of the whole Tibetan area.
Though I have known Yang Yankang for quite a long time, we have never talked about his motivation of becoming a photographer. As I see it, I don’t seem to need to talk with him about such things. The catalogues of his works and long time devotion to photography have told me about the reason and support of his work.
The first time Yang Yankang held up his camera, he joined the realists, which shows that he does not bear the burden of the so-called “aestheticism”. To him, it may be more important to find a pure sense of vision. Therefore, Yang Yankang was interested in the grassroots from the very beginning. However, in my eyes, it was not until one day when he and some of his friends arrived at a village of Hansen’s Disease on the coast of Guangdong Province did he find the “true sense”. What he saw told him what existence is, what life is, and what perseverance is. Obviously, it was the power of reality instead of anything else that sharpened Yang’s lens and enabled his photos to have an exact correspondence with dignity.
What matters is that through Yang’s lens misfortune itself evolves to a terminal: faith. People establish their dignity with faith; otherwise it would be difficult to imagine that they can overcome the fragility of life. They were not defeated because they acquired, through faith, an eternal power that enabled them to abandon misery and reach peace. This power was seen by Yang Yankang in the poverty-struck Northwestern countryside who worked to tell people how stunned a person was by the reality he saw. Afterwards, he went even deeper into this stunning reality, and this time, he went to a remoter spiritual home, Tibet , where he continued to look for soul-experience, dignity, and faith.
There are countless people who go to Tibet to take photos. The fantastic nature and ethnic groups in Tibet may have made it a significant target for photographers all over the world, which means Tibet has become the origin of the “illusion pictures” generated by the world’s exotic spiritual band. The result is that the true Tibet disappeared; the ordinary life of real Tibetans, their misery, their happiness, and their dignity were misportrayed. The more attractive Tibet is, the further it goes from people’s sight. This is a strange case, and it was the fundamental reason for which Yang Yankang and people with the same firm faith were attracted. Yang wants to return a true Tibet , an unavoidable Tibet with iron-like dignity through his work.
This reminds me of the explanation for awarding Yang Yankang on the 1st“Shafei Photography Award” which was a wonderful summary of the whole meaning of Yang’s works and is also helpful for understanding them and their value behind.
I understand that we actually don’t need to say too much about Yang Yankang’s photos. I firmly believe that people can find from his pictures contents that are much more significant than words. Once they realize Yang’s transference between vision and faith, they, like me, will find many comments redundant. We really need not to say anything other than feeling it, because faith, and the visual experience generated from that faith, is beyond words. By then, everyone will agree that only the art works are the most accountable vehicle in which faith can shine.
March 31, 2008
Born in Anshun, Guizhou, China in 1954; now lives in Shenzhen, Guangzhou.
2010, photograph exhibition Tibetan Buddhism at LEICA Art Gallery in Singapore
2008, Catholicism in China's Countryside participated the China Perception seven-people exhibitions in US and European Countries.
2007, Tibetan Buddhism exhibited at Shanghai Art Gallery. 20 photographs collected.
2004, Catholicism in China's Countryside exhibited at China Pingyao International Photography Festival.
2002, Catholicism in China's Countryside exhibited at VISA International Photography Festival in France.
2001, Solo exhibition held at Taiwan Visual Art Center.
1995, participated the exhibition "Bouncing Asia" at Tokyo Photography Art Gallery.
1992, participated the exhibition Beyond City-China's Countryside in Germany.
1988, held solo exhibitions Yang Yankang's Northern Shaanxi in Shenzhen, Shaanxi, and Guizhou, and published collections.
2010, awarded the "Influential Chinese Photographer".
2009, Tibetan Buddhism was awarded Henri Nannen Prize in Germany
2007, received the First Shafei Photograph Award. 50 photographs were collected by Guangdong Art Gallery.
2005, Catholicism in China's Countryside was awarded Henri Nannen Prize in Germany.
2002, received the Best Foreign Photographer Award at the First Nakdong International Photography Festival in Korea.
2002, evaluated as the "Most Influential Chinese Photographer" by Photographers' Companion
2001, evaluated as the "Most Influential Chinese Photographer" by Photographers' Companion
2001, received the Annual Fund Award of the Shandong Yipin International Photography Festival.