“There was a time when the modern man thought that he was making objects,” says François Cheval. “Now the homo faber, as a model, is disappearing in favour of the homo consumer.”
Cheval is curator of the Musée Nicéphore Niépce in France, but he also co-curated the lead exhibition at this year’s Lianzhou Foto Festival with Wang Chunchen, head of the department of curatorial research at Beijing’s Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum. Titled As Entertaining As Possible, the show explores the spectacle of consumerism, and the way in which images have “have transformed the individual into a privileged witness to his own alienation”, says Cheval.
Including nearly 20 artists, As Entertaining As Possible includes Maurice Durville’s America 60 series, photographs of the United States in the 1960s, and Jacob Nzudie & Jean-Luc Cramatte’s Supermarket project, which shows people posing among aisles of goods in Yaoundé, Cameroon.Works from Li Zhengde’s The New Chinese, meanwhile, depict a young, urban, “selfie” generation in the People’s Republic. “The way in which Chinese photographers have treated the subject is remarkable,” says Cheval. “There is no compromise: a cold and surgical gaze on today’s society.”
The exhibition also features work from Max Siedentopf’s Funny Money, which was shot this year. A white Namibian now living in the Netherlands, Siedentopf returned to his home country with €100 in local currency, and asked people if he could photograph them. He let them react to the camera as they pleased, and told the locals to name their price if they wanted to be paid – his only specification that the money would be part of the picture.
Other highlights from the festival, which runs until 9th December, include a solo exhibition by Wang Yuanling, whose Hello Hualongqiao shows the Chinese city in the 1980s. Debi Cornwall’s Welcome to Camp America series, which gives a glimpse of the absurdity of life for the troops at Guantanamo Bay, won the festival’s Punctum Photography Award.
“Debi showed the brutal reality of the world of merchandise and its desire to bring everything back to the same scale of values,” says Cheval.