Poetry from Daily Life Du Shao, the Faithful Recorder of History
Poetry from Daily Life
-- On the Photographic Works of Mr. Du Shao

Zheng Gu(Professor of Fudan University in Shanghai and Postgraduate Candidate Adviser)

Mr. Du Shao was born in 1910 when Qing Dynasty was in precarious turmoil and passed away in 1970 when China was deeply involved in the catastrophe of the Great Cultural Revolution. Mr. Shao had gone through two different times and social systems of the Republic of China and People’s Republic of China in his photographic life.

After Mr. Du Shao graduated from Model Elementary School Affiliated to Zhejiang Tenth Normal College at the age of 13, he started to learn about photography at the Aiwu Photo Studio in Qianqiao of Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. After three years’ apprenticeship, he served as a photographer at the Haiwu Photo Studio until 1947 when he set up Du Shao Photo Studio. At this time, he had built up experiences, techniques and aesthetic standard as a full-fledged professional photographer.

Though he had already started photographic career in 1920s, we can see from the preserved pictures that the major part was taken in 1930s-60s when photography was penetrating into all aspects of modern China. I think Mr. Du Shao’s photographic themes focus on three aspects: commercial portrait photographs, documentary photographs and artistic photographs. While making a living on portrait photographs, he did what he could to record the significant historical incidents with his camera covering the anti-Japanese war and the establishment of New China. Meanwhile, as a modern intellectual, he kept maintaining his interest in photographing as a means of expression by making his own individual exploration on its artistic ways of expression, most of which were focused on human landscapes. Throughout his photographic career, these three aspects – commercial portrait photographs, documentary photographs and artistic photographs – were interwoven and could not be completely classified into one particular category. The full and diversified creation in these three aspects characterized Mr. Shao’s accumulation of photographic works.

The major historical event he had undergone was the Anti-Japanese War in Zhejiang province. He took on the role of documenting and providing evidence of the atrocity of the Japanese army and how the masses were brought into open revolt against Japanese invaders. The series of pictures like “Wenzhou’s Preparation of All sorts under Enemy Airplanes and Warship Threat and Situation after the Bombing” have been valuable historical images and evidence that are not only an important part of visual memory of Wenzhou but also the precious visual literature of China. These photos certainly belong to the history of Chinese Photography.

Mr Du Shao’s humanities photographs, focusing on Wenzhou as well, manifest his amiable judgment and identity of the classical beauty of Wenzhou’s humanities and landscapes with well-balanced composition and tidy and rigorous frame. These unpretentious works are both his plain recollections on the beautiful sceneries in his hometown and affectionate record of the local humanities and sceneries. The most impressive quality of these pictures is that we are not seeing him indulge his personal desire to distort the objects of the pictures or excessively process the pictures, thus damaging the authenticity of the picture. His full representation of images borrows the force of nature through his proper positioning. Excelling in tranquil observation by oneself, Mr. Shao makes beautiful sceneries and landscapes speak through the lens. He was not much influenced by photographic techniques and concepts that started to be known after 1949. He persistently maintains a gentle view towards the truthfulness of nature and unfolds distinctive character of nature without slight illusion. As a photographer, Mr. Shao’s consistent style shows his aesthetic judgment and spiritual concentration. Therefore, looking back a few decades later, his decorous personal character and temperament are fully manifested in his works both respecting the local natural sceneries and displaying his personal aesthetic interest. His profound understanding of photography and adequate application of techniques based on deep appreciation of the picture themes all account for Mr. Shao’s unique humanity and landscape photography.

We might as well quote a few words of Mr. Du Shao: “70% of the success of a picture is due to its neatness.”(Quoted from Wang Pu’s Recalling the Landcape Photographer Mr. Du Shao) But what I want to stress is that his pictures are characterized by the neatness in a concise and rich manner. This kind of “neatness” does not make one feel deficiently, but interweaving generosity and sophistication. This “neatness” is presented appropriately without the effects of formality resulted from the constraints of the local sceneries. We believe this special photographic style can only be created by Mr. Du Shao at that specific time.

Another important feature of his photographic career is that Mr. Du Shao launches his photography basically in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province. Sceneries under his lens mostly originate from Oujiang River Basin area where he lived his whole life. Taking root in Wenzhou as a result of either his own choice or limited external condition, Du Shao was able to go in-depth into a theme thoroughly, which contributed to his photographic achievements. The decision to take root in a place meant that he had to temper his judgment and discover fresh ideas from the monotonous daily life, and this is far more difficult a challenge than that of photographing in a transient tour. In a sense, Mr. Shao’s photographic experiences have proved that it is possible to transform the limitation of staying within one place into advantage he can take to pursue eternity in daily life. He accomplishes a special esthetics view from the rich local characteristic which he has made eternal in the pictures. This associates us with Italian photographer Mario Giacomelli (1925-2000). He lived his entire life in his hometown Nepali Gary, but also photographed many unforgettable pictures of Italian flavor.

Living in a rapidly changing world, Mr. Du Shao is undoubtedly influenced by modernism photography. The signboard of his photo studio is just a case in point. The Chinese characters on the signboard were typically influenced by the introduction of the western Art Deco. But in his entire life he focuses more on the local sceneries to single out the classical poetic sentiment from routine life. However, Mr. Du Shao’s photographs are quite different from Pictorialism trend at that time which stresses an overall blurry look. While Pictorial Photographs make a great deal processing to the picture, and try hard to produce the visual imagination separated from the reality, Mr. Shao’s pictures look neat, and the phantoms are clear just like what is engraved in negatives and films and what is seen in the eyes.

The later generations of the Shaos after Du Shao are engaged in the photographic creation as well. Mr. Jiayie Shao, the son of Du Shao, is famous for his outstanding portrait photography, and grandson Mr. Dalang Shao is widely known for his subtle presentation of the West Lake with abundant connotation. Obviously, their characteristics and achievements in photography are definitely influenced by Mr. Du Shao. It is Mr. Du Shao’s wholehearted commitment to photography that makes his children perceive the photographic charm and dignity as a way of appreciation and presentation.

Finally, we would like to extend our deepest gratitude to the Wenzhou Cultural Federation and the Wenzhou Photographer Association with whose help Mr. Du Shao’s photographs are sorted out and published. Without their endeavor, we can not have the chance to appreciate the album which is a great legacy to our offspring and shows the great importance attached to photography and photographic history.

2010 in Shanghai

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