Born and raised in Shanghai, Shen Wei is a fine art photographer currently based in New York City. His work have been exhibited nationally and internationally, with venues including the Museum of the City of New York, Lincoln Center Avery Fisher Hall, the Harn Museum of Art, Southeast Museum of Photography and the CAFA Art Museum in Beijing. His photographs have been featured in publications such as The New Yorker, Aperture, ARTnews, PDN, American Photo, and Chinese Photography. Shen Wei holds an MFA in photography, video, and related media from the School of Visual Arts, New York; a BFA in photography from Minneapolis College of Art and Design; and an AA in decorative arts from Shanghai Light Industry College. I sit down with Shen Wei and discuss a variety of topics. Read below for the full Q&A…
Last year you participated in events in New York and Shanghai. Have you observed significant differences in how the audiences of these two countries view and react to your work?
Shen: Certainly the audiences of New York and Shanghai responded to my work differently, especially for my Chinese Sentiment series. Chinese audiences are looking at images of subjects they are rather familiar with, so it is much easier for them to relate to the work, rediscover what I had rediscovered and to go beyond. For the New York audiences, it might be a new experience to seeing China from a more personal and intimate perspective.
When the time came for you to graduate from Minneapolis College of Art and Design, what brought upon the decision to further your education even more?
Shen: My exposure to western art started only when I first moved to the US in 2000. I have never had any experience in photography before that. So three years in MCAD was not only an introduction to photography, but also an eye-opening experience of art study and appreciation. For a late starter, I felt like I have a lot to catch up with. And it was my dream to go to a graduate school in New York City.
A lot of your photography includes very risky themes and the narrative isn’t always straight-forward. As a photographer do you have to be confident and comfortable with your own sexuality in order to capture someone elses?
Shen: The goal of my work is always to tell stories that are subtle, evocative, and imaginative. I like a story with an open ending. Sexuality is very complicated and everyone presents it differently. Making a portrait of someone is a task which depend on the chemistry between people, and that chemistry sometimes can be a mystery, with or without the influence of sexuality.
So if each piece of work differs based on the people involved, how do you invoke an instinctual emotional response to the portrait?
Shen: One of the most beautiful moments of portrait-making is when the sitter and the photographer are exploring each other. The emotional responses always come out naturally during that exploration.
In your professional opinion, what is lacking in today’s contemporary photographic portraitures?
Do you have any favorite Asian films?
Shen: I love Zhang Yimou’s early films, such as Raising the Red Lantern, To Live, and Ju Dou.
How has China as a country, and the cultures tied to it directly influenced or impacted your work as a creative?
Shen: China and Chinese culture are important parts of my art, my life and my character. I was born and raised in China. For the first 22 years of my life, China is the only place in the world that I know well. It is really hard not to be influenced and impacted strongly by the land and the culture I grew up in, especially when they are highly colorful and fascinating.
Having been a major player in Green Cart which did a lot of good for a lot of people, what other charitable work would you like to contribute too? Do you feel as an artist you have an obligation to use your art for the purpose of goodness?
Shen: I absolutely agree that art should be created for the purpose of goodness, and I think most of art does in its different aspects. I personally would love to stay involving in working with non-profit organizations if there is any suitable opportunity.
What exhibition plans do you have for 2013-2014?
Shen: Chinese Sentiment will be exhibited in Germany and China later this year. I Miss You Already is scheduled to be exhibited in Bangkok in early 2014. There are also a few group exhibitions in discussion for 2013-2014. Lately, I also started to work on some videos, performance art and drawings. So I am certain exhibitions will happen gradually throughout the year.
Lastly, any advice to any struggling photographer?
Shen: Be patient.
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