“The Chinese” Liu Zheng’s vision of – something akin to Robert Frank’s over indulged “The Americans”- is something of a retort to an enduring party line of perfect people with a perfect future under, of course, a perfect leadership, who might even be so bold as to claim immortality were their optimism not already spouting beyond capacity.
In Liu Zheng’s tragedy we have Chinese who actually get old and die, have accidents or live in a less than perfect world, among a wide cast of subjects, from strippers, to beggars, to predatory business men to entertainers and asylum cases. If the ‘perfect leadership’ were to actually spend a moment or two reading this book they might find themselves having to sweep quite a few, well, marginal folk, up, in preparation for their perfectly happy olympics.
Liu Zheng’s dedication to what appears to be a rather too true reality, allows us to register our own impermanence – we all share the same fate – while also questioning whether these Chinese are in fact marginalized and on the fringe, perhaps they are rather more the diverse norm, there might even be something of them in us.
An exceptional book, really, and in my view transcending by far Frank’s self obsessed work. I always get the feeling that Frank describes something not even there. By not allowing his own interpretation – he does have one doesn’t he – he’s kind of letting the storm carry his work where it will.
Furthermore, while Frank seems to heavily criticize, there’s always a statement to be found somewhere in his work, Zheng allows his subjects to speak. His images reflect people in a world that really exists. Were it not for the notoriety of the ‘Americans’, perhaps there should not even be a comparison, save the stringing of images bit. Maybe we’re really looking more in the line of Diane Arbus, without the freakery side.