Publication: Caochangdi PhotoSpring preview

A sneak peak at the Caochangid PhotoSpring photography festival that opens in Beijing this Saturday. Read it here or on China Daily

Pierre Gonnord, Under the Skin, 2006 Venue: Urs Meile Gallery, Caochangdi Date: April 17 to May 19

Photography aficionados can head to Caochangdi and 798 this weekend to be part of a historic occasion in the Beijing arts scene the launch of the Caochangdi PhotoSpring photographic festival.

The event, which opens on Saturday, is being held in partnership with the Les Rencontres d’Arles photography festival that began in the southern city of Arles 40 years ago. In that time, the French festival has never left its country.

But thanks to three Beijingers – independent curator Berenice Angremy, and husband-wife artistic team Rongrong and inri – the works of foreign and Chinese photographers will be on exhibit at more than 20 partner galleries around the city.

Caochangdi PhotoSpring also marks the first time that an international contingent of pre-eminent critics, curators, scholars and other photography professionals will gather in Beijing.

The idea for a Beijing photography festival sprang up in the summer of 2007 when Angremy brought Rongrong to Arles as part of a Chinese photography exhibit she curated for Les Rencontres d’Arles. In France, the two met the French festival organizers to discuss the possibility of a cross-continental collaboration.

“At the time, it could’ve taken any shape – a festival or something else,” Angremy said.

It was not until last fall that “everything came together” and Angremy, Rongrong and inri set about organizing Caochangdi PhotoSpring. In under six months, the trio has assembled a rich program – six days of interactive events during launch week (April 17-22) and one to two months of exhibits – open to the public.

Launch week events take place at Three Shadows Photography Art Center, the only gallery in China dedicated to photography (which Rongrong and inri opened in mid-2007), while exhibits will be on show at partner galleries in Caochangdi and 798 until June.

Art festivals have been flourishing in China for some time, but Caochangdi PhotoSpring aims to start something new. The number and caliber of photography professionals gathering in Beijing this spring is noteworthy.

“This kind of meeting and exchange of ideas is unprecedented,” said Angremy. The location is also unique, for Beijing has never played host to a large-scale photography event.

“This is a global city, convenient for a global gathering. Starting with PhotoSpring, people don’t have to go away to Pingyao or Shanghai or Guangzhou to participate in photography festivals,” Rongrong said.

With Caochangdi PhotoSpring, Angremy, Rongrong and inri also seek to push the development of Chinese photography further. The public discussions, symposiums and roundtables that will take place during launch week are meant to educate people on photography as an art form.

“We don’t want people to just passively look at photography,” Angremy said. “We want them to actively engage and we want Beijing to be a place where people can exchange ideas on photography.”

The festival is just a beginning to promote artistic photography in China, especially in Beijing. Angremy hopes “the exchange of ideas won’t end with the festival, but instead, continue to bring new possibilities for Chinese photography in the long run”.

Angremy, Rongrong, and inri will organize two more PhotoSpring festivals as part of a three-year partnership agreement with Arles.

“Three years is just enough to create a network for photography in China. We are not organizing this festival as a one-off activity – we will create collaborations beyond PhotoSpring in its current form,” Angremy said.


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