As of the invention of photography, besides portrait and landscape soon architectural photography started to boom right at the critical juncture of industrial revolution and the urban transformation in Europe. Nowhere was it more dramatic than In Paris where its development was even accelerated thanks to the Haussmann overhaul of the city involving massive demolitions and constructions between 1850 and 1870. The guidelines at that time were first to get rid of all the shady neighborhoods and dark and damp narrow alleys for sanitary reasons such as prevention of epidemic diseases; in parallel the clearance of wide space around the major monuments and public institutions was launched for political reasons especially to facilitate crowd control in times of demonstration and riots. Photographers were commissioned by the government to document the original habitat before demolition and produced a valuable documentation. The second major factor for architectural photography was the coming of the age of World Expo: from 1855 to 1900 Paris alone held five successive world expos linking fine arts to industrial innovation. From London (1851) to San Francisco (1906) the world was seized by the frenzy of world expo. Zola wrote about ¡°the neurosis of the great bazaars¡± but confirmed that ¡°to show was the vital question¡±, for the political power and for the general public alike, there was the temptation to show off the new industrial breakthroughs associated to national glory and the thirst for the public to see the world. The competition in terms of bold architectural achievements, aided by the temporary nature of expo architectures had indeed stimulated many photographers, professional and amateur alike. The need to capture monumental structures, the research on how to resolve the complex equilibrium of volume and space, have led to technical progress in terms of photographic equipments such as cameras, and optical lens, etc. In terms of composition photographers have evolved from ¡°enclosing a volume¡± to ¡°opening the space¡±. The whole development prefigures the coming of the age of ¡°modernism¡± in photography: leading to geometric and abstract photography, light reflection deformation and polarization research characteristic of the early 20th century including the creative prowess of the surrealistic movement.
Therefore rise of China at the beginning of the 21st century and the holding of Shanghai World Expo are setting a very interesting parallel to Paris at the end of 19th century. And Zhou Ming¡¯s photography in that context is even more remarkable first in its references to ¡°classic¡± architectural photographic research, and secondly in its originality compared to the mass of snapshots taken by the 73 million visitors who have flocked to this unprecedented magnificent architectural feast. ?Zhou Ming as a veteran photographer specialist of city landscape, known for his creative snapshots of Shanghai, from his ¡°Shanghai ¨C Alternative views¡± to his ¡°Shanghai ¨C Viewed from Above¡±, demonstrates here his innovative and alternative approach, proving to the younger generation of photographers that film-based and ¡°low-tech¡± classic photography can produce a well conceived and innovative series of stunning representations of the architectures that most of us would have thought ¡°d¨¦j¨¤-vu¡±. These ¡°EXPOLARIZED¡± pictures of Zhou Ming reveal a world of unusual, unfamiliar even weird structures we have never seen before. Are these toy-houses, miniature buildings, science-fiction space ships or centuries-old galleys or vessels?
What an extraordinary achievement with a classic medium format camera simply through a sheer twist in the lens, using all the traditional ingredients of aperture, light and shadow, angle of shoot, carefully chosen geometric composition. After spending hours and days in over 15 trips to the Expo site, Zhou Ming has also labored endless hours in his dark room producing these incredible silver gelatin prints. How to ¡°de-architecture¡± the World Expo seems to be the question.? For it is about photography, not about ARCHITECTURE, not about World Expo, not about BETTER CITY, not about BETTER LIFE. Simply using the basic components of photography: choice of distance with the photographed structure, balance of light and shadow to produce the black, white and grey, composition, angle, point of view, frame, most of all the focus, depth of fields, and the dark room process of print making, Zhou Ming offers us his vision of the World Expo just for the pleasure of our eyes.

Photography today is no longer limited to reproducing reality faithfully and truthfully as it is. Christian Caujolle said ¡°silver gelatin image is subjective¡±. What Zhou Ming has achieved here is by force a totally subjective vision, an alternative illustrative-contemplative representation of the unprecedented architectural feast. In his EXPOLARIZED we are more interested by what people do not recognize rather than what they can identify. It is a mind game and a visual journey in trying to identify the blurry shapes and the sharply focused details, and a treasure hunt for the ¡°punctum¡± in each picture. It is a challenge for us viewers to reflect on the meaning of what we see, on the depth and the sharpness of our vision, on our capacity of seeing beyond the iconography.?

Jean Loh
Shanghai November 2010

Zhou Ming - Expolarized
4 color printing
21 pieces