During the Spring Festival in 2010, I was quite delighted to receive a letter from my old friend Yuan Lianmin. In his letter, with sincere emotion, he recalled our meeting in Huangshan Mountain 28 years ago and flashbacked the preface I wrote for his photo album. The Important Thing Is to Make New Discoveries. Yuan Lianmin is meticulous in work. If he makes a spelling error in his letter occasionally, he will cover it with white-out and then rewrite it. It is hard to find such serious people like him in todays society.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Yuan Lianming as a photographer shooting Huangshan for 40 years. It is natural that Literary and art circles will hold a seminar and an exhibition for Yuan. I saw a comment on his Huangshan Scenic Photography，which is entitled Rooted in Huangshan simplified as the Chinese character Pine. I think that it also conveys his love for the pine in Huangshan. In the four wonders of Huangshan he has specially keen on pines which suggests dignity, wonder, and majesty of life. He regards Huangshan as the living nature, and the pine is the pride on the top of Huangshan with its colorful patterns. The older he becomes, the more experience he has got, and the further understanding in personification of the pine trees Yuan Linming has had. Yuans picture Fortunate Clouds and Propitious Light in which he shot the rainbow needed his luck plus inspiration and techniques. So I believe that the personification of the performance of pine may need constantly repeated observation, experience and more dynamic expression of subjective. Each pine stands for the independent personality.
I cannot forget a paragraph in Lianmins letter, in which he says, because of metabolism and the global greenhouse effect as well as other objective factors, the pine trees on Huangshan Mountain of which I took the photos in 1970s and 1980s have greatly changed and some have gone forever. As a matter of fact, the value of these good photos lies in not only art but also the fact that the subjects in these photos have become part of history. All living things in the world follow their own laws of growing and withering away. The problem is how we can protect the famous pine trees and other trees on Huangshan Mountain so that they can survive the harsh situation and bring benefit to human beings.
My friend Yuan Lianmin called me from Anhui that he was prepared to put out a large collection of photosWonderful Huangshan. In my memory, it is the third book after his Huangshan Wonders and Huangshan. I feel pleased with him. I find it is difficult to write any comments on his work, because some outstanding masters, such as Wang Zhaowen,Feng Qiyong, Shen Peng and Wu Yinxian, have praised him for his great works. I feel nervous to say something related with those masters, but I can not refuse his proposal for the deep friendship between us for decades.
I am pleased to know that people in charge of Huangshan Mountain consider the protection of nature and ecology of the mountain as their duty and responsibility. Whats more, each pine tree should be under the protection of a certain man. That is called one people, one tree so as to make the pines stay evergreen.
I do not want to say anything about Yuan Lianmins hard work when he was taking photos of Huangshan and I do not want to mention the great achievements which he has made in the world either. What I want to emphasize is his own ideas and ways of practice which are reflected in his works. He distanced the artistic image from simple copy of original image. Though we can catch the beautiful scenes with our camera, we may not express the essences of natural beauty of Huangshan. The beauty is mechanically taken into the pictures without the photographers emotional experience, deep artistic conception and imagination. It is just the superficial beauty. To some extent, it neither shows us a profound aesthetics implication nor totally enters the aesthetic field of art.
The descriptiion of the natural scene used to be criticized as isolating from the reality. Therefore，relying on the conscience ,revering the nature and praising the harmony, the true artists purse untiringly for the fixed creative work with the profound humane theory in their mind. I once said that my dear fellow Yuan Lianmin is a man of action who is good at thinking. May God bless the diligent man! May his art stay forever!
Yuan has gone through a process of cognition, then proceeding from the outside to the inside, from superficiality to profundity when he spent a great deal of time on observing and taking pictures of Huangshan, so he can understand and discover its natural beauty. His heart is imbued with an affection of Huangshan. His affection can be seen in his works. A Scene of Prosperity, one of his best works, tells us that he has gone through the ten years disturbance in Cultural Revolution. He was full of joy to see the downfall of the Gang of four and photographed the sunrise in praise of the coming new era. He sincerely hoped to eulogize Chinas bright future with the picture of the sunrise. It is true that his works are always filled with sentiment and symbolism.
The difference between Yuan Lianmins works of Huangshan and the duplication-like shallow level of scenery photos is that he has correctly understood and dealt with the problem of space scenes. The scenery photographys objective is the real and physical spatial scenes, while the piracy style can only show the time, the location and the type of the geographical landscape, which is just the duplication of the original world. But Yuan Lianmins works of Huangshan are created mostly by the impresstionistic approach. While taking a photograph, he often melts the sentiment in the scenery, simultaneously carrying on the image idea and the artistic imagination. In addition, he often uses scene selection, angle transformation, and the fixable utilization of light, shadow and color, etc. , through the rain clouds and other climatic factors. He has also taken advantage of exaggeration, distortion, which convert the original physical space image into a psychological space for people to watch, so that people can be deeply impressed by the unique, danger, magnificence and beauty of Huangshan. What a majestic scene his Eastern Sunrise has depicted. There are layers of gushing clouds, dawn-illustrious of the rising sun, and the incarnadined sky by natural brushes. It is a great open vision. When appreciating the scene, people will not focus on the shape, size, location of the sun, the cloud, but will immediately have various mental impressions of the unique, danger, magnificence and beauty, etc. As for Fairy Peak, in the endless light of clouds bosom, the stones which like dagger are placed closely side by side, and the steep cliff pulling out. When you see this scene, dont you feel strange and dangerous psychologically? Shen He Cang Jiao: in the slit of two pieces of megalith, a peak like a pen holder with a small pine tree on is shrouded with mist in the distance, which looks prominent. In the contrast of distance, size and brightness, it constitutes a delicate ink picture in peoples minds. No more examples need to be cited. In brief, Yuan Lanmins many works, through his subjective meaning making, give people psychological senses of beauty in various forms. For this reason, these works go beyond the reality, and provide the audience imagination. The works also have created an artistic state of changing scenes into emotion, changing realities into virtual images.
Anything occurred has its reasons. In my eyes, one of the most important reasons why Yuan Lianmins photography of Huangshan shines in the field of photography mostly is that he prefers accumulation than usage. In his life, he has climbed Huangshan for more than 160 times in 40 years. In the 40 years, his 18 Spring Festivals were celebrated on the mountain. In order to find an ideal spot for photographing, he has experiences hardship and danger. He nearly fell off the cliff twice, which almost led to his death. Luckily, he was saved by others, avoiding a tragedy. Meanwhile, for the purpose of making full prepare for photographing, he carefully observed the changes of weather and vagaries of cloud and mist, waiting for the best moment to take photos. In artistic practice, he grinds away at photography skills and techniques, such as application of rays, color processing, and composition of photos. At the same time, he has accumulated knowledge in photography skills and artistic expression. Now Yuan Lianmin has found out a series of rules of photographing Hangshan.
In the end, I can not help expressing my heartful admiration for his serious creative attitude and persistent dedication.
Early last autumn I met photographer Yuan Lianmin on Huangshan Mountain and saw many photos of the scenery he had taken there. Now these photos have been collected into an album entitled Wonderful Views of Huangshan Mountain and recently I read his monograph on photography, which has enabled me to get a more comprehensive understanding of his artistic features.
Yuan Lianmin is a diligent man of action and an apt thinker.His works in great number manifest the correctness of his guiding principles and many-sided knowledge.This is my appraisal of Yuan Lianmin and maybe it is not comprehensive enough,I am afraid.
Yuan Lianmin says that he has purposely trained himself to obtain three abilities: sensitivity in observation; the faculty in capturing images and the imaginative power.These three abilities are also the demands he sets on himself,which he has summarized through practice and in turn have pushed his practice up to a higher level.Generally speaking these requirements embrace the process of artistic creation from understanding life to reflecting life.Sensitivity in observation has its source in profound understanding,while profound understanding inevitably carries in itself rich imagination.Sensitivity and the imaginative power belong to a formation of cognition that comprise many intermediate links between perceptual knowledge and rational knowledge .Thinking in terms of images is an ever-present characteristic in artistic creation whether in understanding life or reflecting life.Through the medium of substantial materials artists convert theirexcellent ideas obtained through thinkinginto aesthetic and sensuous images.Yuan Lianmin has attached great importance to thefaculty in capturing images,and fully grasped the characteristic of creating by means of images so that he can fully and rationally display his feelings and aesthetic consciousness.
In regard to the relationship between subjectivity and objectivity the three abilties of Yuan Lianmin mean a self-imposed demand to bring forth the role of initiative.An ancient said:When one climbs a mountain,his heart must be permeated with an affection for the mountain;when one watches the sea,his heart must be brimmed with the sentiments for the sea.In order to obtain the ability of understanding and reflecting life,it is imperative for one to sustain exuberant sentiments,master the beauty of Nature and show it in the works of art.I do not believe that Yuan Lianmin,who stresses practice and values objectivity,agrees with the advocacy that in art there is nothing else butself-expression. Nevertheless he paid great attention to the expression of subjective spirit.One of his works is entitled My Heart Is Imbued with an Affection for Huangshan Mountain and the Concept of the Sea of Clouds. He said that in exploring the beautiful views of Huangshan Mountain he never for a single moment relaxed in a state of mind of intense feelings and imagination.With such feelings and imagination he brought forth all positive factors and produced the best possible photos.
There is no conflict in photography between tapping subjective initiative and the fact that photos are limited to recording existent objects.A camera cannot take in things beyond the sphere of the lens and a photographer has no right to add,reject or rearrange things to his liking as a painter does to his paintings.Thus the merit of photography as an objective recorder is also a limitation.(On this effect Auguste Rodin even stated thatartists tell truth while cameras lie.)However,this does not mean that photographers cannot give play to their subjective initiative within a limited scope.Thanks to the creative labor of photographers,fleeting scenes can be captured onto the film.If the pictures have artistic appealing they will certainly have eternal value.In the first spring after the downfall of thegang of fourYuan Lianmin shot a landscape picture entitled A Scene of Prosperity in praise of the new era.Talking about his feelings at the time when he took the picture,Yuan Lianmin said that he was full of joy to see China revive after ten years disturbance in thecultural revolution.He strongly wanted to eulogize Chinas bright future with a picture of sunrise.He waited for a long time for the right opportunity.Finally he caught a marvelous moment of the universe when the sun was rising in splendour from the east.Sunrise in A Scene of Properity is completely a natural phenomenon.If the photographer had merely seen isolated peaks,clouds and the sunrise without enthusiasm and a strong desire to create,he would have missed a much better chance.The artists high sensitivity and imagination endowed him with the ability to find the most typical images in real life that evoke beholders imagination and strike a sympathetic response.
For a period of time paintings that lacked epitomization and stiffly duplicated life were labelled asphoto type.Later,this derogatory term gradually disappeared from critics articles.Although the way a photographer epitomizes life is different from that of a painter,epitomization and the related imaginative activities are indispensable factors in the process of his creation .It may even be said that a photographers power of epitomization and imagination is more important just because photography is limited by real objects.Understanding must be stressed in order to strengthen sense perception.It is impossible to produce works of artistic appealing and reflcting the essense of life when one thinks imagination is unnecessary in recording facts,and in theory not only puts sense perception against understanding but also puts sensitivity against imagination,facutal recording against epitomization.
Yuan Lianmins successful works such as A Scene of Prosperity are the fruits of his social and artistic practice over a long period of time.Fifty years old this year,Yuan Lianmin began publishing his works shortly after the founding of New China.He has enthusiastically reflected the life of workers and peasants, and at the same time taken many pictures of landscapes.Since 1972 when he climbed Huangshan Mountain for the first time,he has revisited that area several dozen times, Huangshan Mountain have become a main subject matter of his photos.
However, the characteristics of an artists subject matters cannot be equated to those of his style.Taking Huangshan Mountain as an example.Different photographers take pictures from different angles,so the contents should be specific,not coming out of the same mould.Hegel said that we might say that originality came from the features of the object and the features of the object came from the subjectivity of the creator. Here, the subjectivity of the creatoris decisive in the formation of style and affects the mastery of the features of the object.In regard to how to take pictures of Huangshan Mountain, for over a dozen years Yuan Lianmin has gone through a process of cognition proceeding from the outside to the inside,from superficiality to profundity. The scenery of Huangshan Mountain, known as a natural painting, is extremely like a Chinese traditional landscape painting done in a graceful style with clear-veined rocks and ever-changing cloud and mist.
Yuan Lianmin started his career as a cameraman of science and educational film. Perhaps for this reason he took pains in the study of the characteristics of the geology,climate and seasons in Huangshan Mountain, which helped him understand the place better.But he was not so successful in mastering the main points of the spiritual essentials of the mountains in his picture-taking. His first photo of Huangshan Mountain published in 1973. Fairy Peak, shows that from the very beginning Yuan Lianmin tried to depict the boldness of vision of Huangshan Mountain, but did not establish a style of his own.Later he was inspired by the Chinere traditional painting which stressesverveandartistic conception.Chinese landscape painters take objects as having personality and emotion.Tang Zhiqi wrote in his Short Notes on Painting:The mood of a mountain,which is static by nature,is alive on every turn;each ripple of water,which is mobile by nature,has its own form.Painters draw mountains and waters to convey their spirit,and understand them in spiritual communion.The so-calledverveandartistic conceptiondepend on the mutual osmosis of subject and object and the combination of the artists subjective character with profound revelation of objects.
Besides A Scene of Prosperity, Yuan Lianmins other outstanding works,such as Dignity and Amid a Coral Forest,all show that he has integrated his subjective world with objective reality.The artists originality lies in that his discovery of the natural scenes at those particular moments perfectly agree with his subjectiveemotionandideaand such artistic circumstances would not recur.
The Huangshan Mountains rising 1,800 meters in Southeast China cover an area of 150 square kilometres. Tourists say the Huangshan Mountains not only possess all the beauties of Chinas five famous mountains but also have a distinguishing feature of their owngrand and elegant, and each spot varies in scenery. Through history numerous poems have been written and paintings done to eulogize the Huangshan Mountains. But two conceptions of real originality will never be identical as not two tree leaves. The most famous ancient painters of the Huangshan Mountains are Hong Ren and Shi Tao. They are very different in style: one excelled in brushwork by painting each corner of the landscape; the other was good at applying ink by searching all the grotesque peaks for a sketch. Painters through history have exerted their talents to describe the countrys rivers and mountains and to reveal the richness of the objective world. But there will never be enough talents to exhaust the beauty of the Huangshan Mountains that are so vast; so imposing and so changing from every angle. Some landscape painters have got used to a stereotypeapplying the same techniques, same compositions and same colors to paint different kinds of rocks. This would just kill the vitality of the natural beauty . Even if they travel for thousands of kilometres looking for source materials but they are working behind closed doors. Original painters try to find beauty in objective world and master it as their inexhaustible source of creation. Hong Ren wrote a poem that goes: I dare say the Heaven and Earth are my teachers, Alone, Ive visited gullies and cliffs with a walking stick. Ive dreamt to be a hermit by the Fuchun River, For not a single part of the water is restricted.
It is still of realistic significance to take nature as teacher and break away from conventions.
Having experienced different climates and seasons and visied many untraversed corners of the Huangshan Mountains, Yuan Lianmin feels that he could never fully reflect the inexhaustible beauty of this natural treasure-house of pictures; but so long as he keeps learning from nature and bringing forth new ideas, he will constantly produce refreshing works. He does not like to echo others words on art, and tries hard to avoid repeating himself. Like many other famous mountains the Huangshan Mountains have many established scenic spots such as The Monkey Watching the Sea and The Squirrel Jumpping into the Celestial Capital named by visitors through history who saw them in motions and vitality. The names given through creative imagination reflect in a roundabout way the relationship between human beings and nature, and confirm human beings innate strength. Although all the names of the scenic spots are interesting, photogrphers of originality do not want to substitute the discoveries of their predecessors for their own composition. In Yuan Lianmins words: photographers who take reproducing natural beauty as their duty should not act like ordinary tourists or geographers; and photography is not a tool of tourist guide. So, even when he took pictures of such popular spots as A Writing Brush Bursts into Bloom and The Immortal Pointing the Way, he chose his own angles and displayed new ideas. Yuan Lianmins approach reminded me of my experience when I admired paintings and photos. I feel that some artists seem to be afraid that their works would not be the same as the real objects when they take pictures of established spots. Take the Elephant Trunk Hill in Guilin for example. Some photographers took pains to make the picture look like as close as possible a real elephant trunk. Some painters went so far as to draw a few blurred strokes on the stone hill to imply eyes. This practice, at least, is a substitution of old imagination for their own creation. Furthermore, these artists lack the necessary understanding of the point that landscape paintings rely on verve and artistic conception to affect spectators.
Yuan Lianmin spent a great deal of time on taking pictures of pine tree on the Huangshan Mountians.His vision went beyond the ten famous trees such as Welcoming Guests Pine .It was not because he did not think they were beautiful,but because, as mentioned above, he did not care for objects already named by others.The famous pine trees mostly grow by roadside and have become the targets of photos for many years.Those pine trees grown on the precipices and in the gullies are often more sturdy and steadfast,which are more agreeable to Yuan Lianmins interest. However. Yuan Lianmins love of the pines on the Huangshan Mountains does not lie in the treesnatural property. He stresses the pursuit of verve and creative spirit in artistic conception.During his stay in the mountains he constantly sought after beautiful scenes. Sometimes he used strong contrast to create bold and magnificient views such as those in A Scene of Prosperity and In the Evening Glory; sometimes he would employ a technique surprisingly unique as demonstrated in The Wonderland on Earth; Crystal Jade Branches and Silver Trees in a Gleeful Dance depict a dynamic life in rigid winter; the picture Three Immortal Isles was done in a simple and elegant style. These excellent works can be likened to paintings.Limited though by the fact that they were recording substantial objects, they display the photographers certain power to reflect the natural views by way of a highly artistic condensation and by breaking through the bounds of space and time, The photo Silver Trees in a Gleeful Dance is like calligraphers scroll done with a cursive hand, evoking an imagination far beyond the concrete image of tree branches laden with snow. The photo Autumn Forest was taken with sunlight film. The pine trees are tinted reddish brown by the slanting sun, a much stronger color than the natural one, The vertical and curved lines in the photo Frozen Clouds in the Sky made such a contrast between motion and rest so that the still mountain ranges in it seem at a gallop. Who could say that these photos do not have the effect of painting? The contrast of colors (including black and white) and sense of motion are the characteristics of Yuan Lianmins works and, I think, then should be further developed.
To be free from restrictions imposed on photography by this art itself and to assimilate strong points of painting can be counted as an objective trend. But different characteristics. People sayin a poem there is a painting; in a painting there is a poem. This means that art of language can bring forth visual images to affect readers with a poetic picture. Of course poetry and painting cannot possibly replace each other. The same with painting and photography. Although photos have the effect of paintings, they should not be equated with paintings. Some people once tried to make photos look like paintings by cutting and rearranging certain details of photos. This practice has long been abandoned. At least, this composition of pictures cannot be counted as the onlygood method for photographers. When learning from painting, the art form closest to photography, the most important thing for photographers is to render the artistic conception of painting to the photos and at the same time to retain the characteristics of photography.
Some photos in this album such as Frozen Clouds in the Sky and The Wonderland on Earth can be admired as oil paintings of graphic prints. But the artist did not pursue the completeness of painting. Making full use of the characteristics of photography-direct perception, mobility, liveliness and freshness, he selected a certain corner of the Nature for one of his pictures. Works like these are complete because they have achieved the perfect combination of content and form. The difference is that the completeness of these photos differs from that of paintings. In this regard I am more interested in such photos like Frozen Clouds in the Sky and The Wonderland on Earth for their composition, color and view selection, which are all impossible for paintings to substitute.
After his first visit to the Huangshan Mountains in 1972, Yuan Lianmins understanding of them deepened with each revisit. In his observation in the early days he paid much attention to the natural property of the objects there. But how did he make a breakthrough afterwards? Yuan Lianmin summarized his answer to this question in one sentence:My heart is imbued with an affection for the Huangshan Mountains and the concept of the sea of clouds. Here I want to point out that cultivation and development of the affection and concept not merely depend on observation of the great Nature. Direct participation in social life and practice is more important. People understand and discover natural beauty with a view of society as a whole. Yuan Lianmin would not have developed such power of imagination to sunrise, sturdy pines and other natural phenomena if he had not fostered ardent feelings for life through social practice. Cultivation and development of affection and concept are closely related to ones extensive knowledge in arts. Without an eye capable of discovering natural beauty, Yuan Lianmin would have missed the scenes taken in the photos of Frozen Clouds in the Sky and The Wonderland on Earth. Yuan Lianmins ability to capture images has been developed on the basis of his sensitivity and imaginative power. In the beginning of this article I said Yuan Lianmin is a man of action. Here I would like to add that he is a man of action with rich imagination. I hope he will fly even higher in his action on the wings of imagination.