Amidst the political turmoil that gripped his country in the 60s and 70s, Chinese photojournalist Li Zhensheng was able to document the “untold” stories of the Cultural Movement, despite the dangers involved. Find out more after the cut!
During the Cultural Revolution in China, newspapers had their photojournalists take propaganda photos that only showed the scenes they deemed “positive” (enthusiastic masses with their fists in the air and showing support to the government). On the other hand, those that showed otherwise or “negatives” were deemed useless and unprintable.
Despite this, photographer Li Zhensheng made it a point to take “negatives” alongside “positives”. While the latter were given to the newspaper for printing, the former were kept in envelopes and hidden in a secret compartment in his desk – then later on, under his floorboards – away from prying eyes.
I knew about recording history. My teacher told us: photographers are not only witnesses of history, they are also documentarians of history. – Li Zhensheng via the LENS blog of The New York Times
These photographs were kept a secret until 1988 when it became part of an exhibition about Chinese photography. And while most of the pictures are still largely unseen in China up to now, Li’s work is garnering outside recognition as proven by the publication of Red-Color News Soldier, a book based on his work, edited by Robert Pledge, the co-founder of Contact Press Images (Phaidon Press, 2003).
Li’s photographs will be part of a major photo exhibition that will open at the Barbican Art Gallery in London on September 13. Entitled Everything was Moving: Photography from the 60s and 70s, the exhibit will feature rarely seen photographs that documented the historical events that happened during that era.