chinese contemporary art
Artists >> Shi Guorui

Shi Guorui is a photographer working with camera obscura. He works on large scale projects producing huge photographs, habitually 3.5 to 4 metres long by 1.2 metres high. He has so far completed two such projects, The Great Wall and the Shanghai riverfront. Both of these projects took six months of planning and in the case of The Great Wall, five to six additional weeks to complete as one of its watchtowers was turned into the camera. Out of about six photos attempted the artist deemed only three to be acceptable. One of these photos is now in the collection of the Pompidou Museum, the second in the private collection of Uli and Rita Sigg and the third in another private collection. Also in the Sigg collection is one of the Shanghai works which was included in this summer's exhibition of the Sigg collection in Bern. This photo, showing the early colonial buildings of the Bund and the new development zone of Pudong separated by the Huangpu river, was taken using a hotel conference room as the camera. The average exposure time for these photos is eight hours.

Shi Guorui in 2005 completed his third major, large scale camera obscura work. This project captured Mount Everest, the highest mountain in the world using a special construction for a camera. Unlike his earlier projects where he was able to use existing buildings or rooms in buildings as his camera, the camera for Everest was built on site. The artist made a number of trips to Everest to pick the perfect high altitude site. Technically, the Everest project presented the greatest difficulties he had ever encountered on a project; he was forced to deal with altitude, the elements and atmosphere tht were quite unlike any where else. The final result was a project that was completed in complete harmony with nature.  Shi Guorui's Himalayas series captures the haunting majesty of the world's tallest peak. Shi Guorui once again exhibits his mastery of the camera obscura techinque in his ability to capture tremendous detail and depth in his images. 

For Chinese Contemporary's tenth anniversary exhibition in September 2006, Shi Guorui unveiled his fifth series of photographs in which he captures Hong Kong and Kowloon from a private home on Hong Kong Island. Like Shanghai, the eight hour exposure time renders this bustling city an empty shell of itself and starkly exposes Hong Kong's architectural beauty.  In Shi Guorui's subsequent project, he shot San Francisco from a cell on Alcatratz, the former prison in San Francisco Bay.  This project, executed for the de Young Museum, will capture San Fransico's singular beauty as the city by the bay.   After San Francisco, Shi Guorui traveled south to shot the Hollywood sign in Los Angeles and Donner Pass in Nevada. 

All the locations Shi Guorui selects are iconic: The Great Wall is the spiritual symbol for China; the Shanghai photo shows old colonial powers (the Bund) facing the new China (Pudong). Everest held a similar magical status and is thought by many mountaineers to be the ultimate climb. Its remoteness renders it invisible from any inhabited place.  Hong Kong is a symbol of modernity while the three sites in the western United States are symbolic of dreams and hopes, both fulfilled and unfulfilled. 

Shi Guorui's  camera obscura photographs provide a surreal vision. By removing all activity from the image the subjects are taken to their essence. Shi Guorui sees it as a purification of the soul. As Shi Guorui told the New York Times for the article, In his Camera, a Slow Motion View, "early on I was interested in these technical details, but what's important to me now is the process." This fascination with the process of capturing an image has lead Shi Guorui to become China's foremost camera obscura photographer.