Soul Stealer | Photographer: ZENG Han + YANG Changhong
This story originates from some dreams of us. At that time we were discussing how to find our origin in some “dreamlands” rooted from history by means of photography. Then, the “Land Play” in Guizhou(west south in china) villages, called “Chinese play’s live fossil ” came into our minds. We hope to use this old play to represent the ancient warfare scene, and let the actors wear masks and then communicate with the historical figures just like what psychics do. Therefore, photography becomes an amazing time machine, moving towards different phases in history.
But as we go deeper and deeper, and the images emerge gradually, our shoot is not only a certain time machine?but more and more like the soulstealing, or say, some installation which could control the souls as what people thought of the time. For example, the character in that portrait (which the Land Play actor holds the mask) is actually a peasant /farmer when he takes him off. However, as the actor faces the camera lens, he shows completely the same expression in his eyes like the spirit beneath the mask. It means, time is mingled through the swift shooting of few hundreth of a second, meanwhile, those ancient spirits penetrate through all the limits and stay still with real people in the films. We also make different troupes into a real natural environment and let them perform the wars of different ages which forms a fairly big scene. Under such conditions, those ancient spirits would gather together from all the dissimilar times. During the whole process of this project, we did not make any change or reconstruction of any character, any article, nor the surroundings. What we have done is only to combine everything above into one picture, and create a magical image mixed with time, humanity, society, culture, nature and the mysterious afterworld by way of photography.
After finishing the Land Play series, we go to another wider and more interesting direction: to explore how the society, culture, environment and politics influence and control us, and how the relationship it is between entitative persons and their spirits. That’s how the COSPLAY series comes. We choose a group of adolescent teenagers and fast-developing Shenzhen city (which is) as young as the people. COSPLAY, also called Costume Play, means the cartoon fans dressing up as anime or manga character. As you’ve seen, the Chinese youngsters in this series are generally all the middle school students. By making up the costume and dress themselves, acting as the anime or manga characters (mostly in Japanese cartoons), they change themselves from a common boy or girl into a super hero (or a devil), and with some strong spiritual and cultural hints, they enter an invented shadowland unrestrictedly. In fact, they have realized part of their dreams as soon as they’re standing in front of the cameras. This “surrealistic” image displays the boundless possibility of photography as an art medium to probe into the relationship between the present and the future on all the levels.
The formation of these two series also formed our thought of shooting images of “soulstealing”. “Soulstealing” is an age-old hypnotherapy among Chinese civilians. If the kids are frightened by something and lose consciousness, the elders will go to the scene at night and call the kid’s name, so as the “lost” spirit would hear the calls and come back to the body. Our shoot is actually the same as “soulstealing” in the above image experiments, which summon ups the history, culture and humanities, etc. Philip kuhn, the famous American Sinologist, in his leading book “Soulstealer”, describes an enormous Chinese Sorcery Scare of 1768 during the Qianlong Emperor's reign. The book discloses the crisis of the so-called “times of prosperity”, and the inherent reason why the old China tends towards its latter-day tragic fate.
Nowadays, the new China seems to move towards a new “times of prosperity”, but the crisis should not be ignored. Just like what we exhibited in these two series, the villages where the land play originated become more and more “hollow out”, since young people all rush out to the metropolis, leaving only the old greybeards who sustain the traditions; while in the big cities, young generation whose souls are tightly hold by trendy icon culture, merely care for the vogues brought by globalization, but know nothing about the history and traditions.
After thinking over the historical and cultural problems in our urgent needs, “Soul stealer” series will extend to the origin of our own or the “superhuman third dimension”. We shall firmly persist in using photography to reach our goal, and maybe that’s why the cameras was reckoned as the installation absorbing souls.