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China - Yann Layma
(Translated from the French by Jack Hawks),
A Review by Howard Scott.
Yann Layma, a French photographer, has recently had his images of China published in a large format book entitled, 'China'’. This publication is a selection of colour photographs taken in China from 1985 - 2003. With more than 210 images, most of which are double page spreads, this reportage is a most valuable addition to the library of images of contemporary China.
I met Yann by chance in the café just opposite Luxembourg Garden in Paris on the 10th January 2005. He was watching over his exhibition of large format prints that hung along the Luxembourg Garden fence. In all there were 108 images of size 180cm X 120cm. It was an excellent exhibition that attracted viewers in both sunshine and rain. It was planned, that after Paris this outdoor exhibition would tour London and Tokyo and perhaps some other cities as well. And the format would remain the same; big images hung in public areas where the foot-traffic is heavy.
Yann told me he had chosen 108 images because the number 108 was 'a golden number in the east.' Eight of course, symbolises great wealth and 100 symbolises living for a hundred years. So the choice of 108 symbolises living to a great age with financial security. We talked for a couple of hours before going our separate ways; but I took with me a copy of his 'China' publication. Now that I have had the time to look at it closely and to read the numerous commentaries by acknowledged writers and critics, I can recommend the book to anyone interested in the wide variety of life and landscape that is to be found across China.
With images taken in the far west of China, in the major coastal cities and the rural hinterland, Yann's images capture the Han and the minorities, the young and the old, all four seasons, and both rural and city life. The book is well captioned, identifying the location and date of each image. And each image has a short text by José Freches.
What can we, as photographers, learn from Yann's photographic practice? Firstly, the structure of his images is strong and compelling. I like this feature as it enables him to hang the form of his imagery around these robust pillars of structure. This enticing practice draws you back repeatedly to images already viewed, and isn't this exactly what a photographer wants: repeat viewings. An excellent example of Yann's approach to structure can be seen in the image, 'Rice Mill in Yuanyang'. I also like the form of Layma's images. Each 'pocket of form' is a central subject in its own right. And so his images have multiple centres of primary subject. This is very clever photography that creates very rich content. An example of Yann's approach to form can be seen in the image, 'Bus Station in Dong County'.
But for me, Yann's strongest technical ability is his mastery of balance. His images are beautifully balanced and in an intriguing way, that is not obvious. It took me some time to realize that the balance of Yann's photographs is typical of Chinese traditional painting. Not in all his images, of course, but none-the-less, systematically through the book. Some images are so well balanced that it is almost impossible to distinguish them from traditional paintings. I just love Layma's presentation of balance and in my opinion, it is what we can most learn from Yann's work. Layma's general sense of balance can be seen in images such as, 'Three Generations of Women in the Streets of Sunzhou' and the specific sense of balance I have highlighted, that of the traditional Chinese painting, can be seen in images such as 'Young Couple Gazing at the East Lake in Hangzhou'.
But there are two further qualities that show through the work and which are of value to photographers. Firstly, Yann has a deep and natural rapport with his subjects. These relationships of natural friendship shine through the images like a laser cutting ice; strikingly obvious, eyes bright, smiles broad, and poses inviting and welcoming. It brings a strong sense of personal warmth to the work and ensures that reading the book is a pleasure. An extension of this skill is Yann's ability to be in the right place at the right time. There are several images that only an informed observer could have had the opportunity to capture. Clearly, Yann has mastered the politics of communication that is so important for working successfully in China. These skills that Yann has displayed through his work are valuable and other photographers can learn from him by examining his images carefully. For this opportunity, we owe Yann our gratitude.
The book also provides Yann's email and website address. He responds quickly to emails, enabling the reader to communicate with the author. I find this availability of the author a delightful 'extra' feature of the publication.
Layma’s 'China' can be purchased directly off the internet from a variety of book retailers for around $US50 plus shipping.
Yann Layma's email address