Revisiting a de-Humanized Shanghai: Speculative Realism in Zhou Ming’s Contemporary Object-Oriented Materialist Documentary Photography

Joaquin Lopez-Mugica, Thomas William Whyke

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

Abstract

This paper explores the cultural operations of Zhou Ming’s photography (b.1960), which was aimed at exploring the deeper changes that have gripped the unstoppable urban renewal of Shanghai. His photo-essay Shanghai: An Alternative View (2000–2005), showcases the absurd and incongruous organic and inorganic spaces devoted to new points of view about the ruins that lay behind an assortment of high inner-city density residential areas situated in the Zhabei, Huangpu, and Houkou districts. Zhou Ming’s drive to de-humanize his apparent humanist photography through everyday objects and other signage found during his walking practices, also reveals multiple surrealist metaphoric representations between the materiality of the city and a slanted exaggeration of reality. His documentary camera sets out an ontological shift vis-à-vis the incidence of the everyday ‘found objects’, in which the privilege of humans over objects disappears. The aim of this article is to demonstrate how the photographer’s speculative aesthetics raises the need to redefine Chinese contemporary photography with theories linked to object-oriented ontologies and in general, to new materialism. This can be interpreted as a historical-cultural consolidation of media continuum that also embraces pre-photographic practices that can liberate objects and subjects from ‘sensitive’ content in a post-socialist reality.

Original languageEnglish
JournalPhotography and Culture
DOIs
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024

Keywords

  • (post-) socialist humanism
  • documentary photography
  • objects materialism
  • speculative realism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts

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