A Portal to the Past in Taca Sui’s Dreamlike Black-and-White Photographs

After immersing himself in the texts of late 18th-century Qing dynasty renaissance man Huang Yi, Chinese photographer Taca Sui embarked on a timewarp research project. The resulting photographs are on view in his latest exhibition, “Steles - Huang Yi Project.” 

Taca took inspiration from a series of writings by Huang Yi, an amateur archaeologist, poet, calligrapher, and painter who traveled to Shandong and Henan Provinces to document ancient steles—large inscribed slabs of stone found at historical sites across China. This is not the first time that Taca has taken cues from history: his 2013 exhibition, “Odes,” was inspired by ancient Chinese poetry. For “Steles,” he followed Huang’s footsteps, using his writings “Diary on Visiting Steles near Mount Song and the Luo River” and “Diary on Visiting Historical Steles from Jining to Tai’an” as guidebooks to plot his photographic expedition. However, unlike the historical sites that Huang was able to document 200 years prior, Taca’s works reveal crumbling relics with degraded inscriptions that have largely disappeared.

The black-and-white photographs are powerful portraits of what remains of China’s past, but they are also  stunning landscape photos conveying the beauty of historically significant sites. Magical ancient tombs and temples such as the so-called “stupa forest” in Lingyan Temple (2015) and the regal Buddhas in the Dragon Cave (2015) impart a sense of the ephemerality of time while also paying homage to a different era. Works like Tomb of Prince Lu #1 (2015), invoke the ancient artisans and laborers who manually chiseled stunning feats of art and architecture from stone. 

Taca’s photographs are also able to conjure a surreal, fantastical quality that we see more often in Chinese landscape painting. The dreamy, mysterious effects of these sites are only enhanced by the silver barium sulfide photo paper the artists employs. Shades of grey become silvery and reflective, evoking at once nostalgia and enchantment, and capturing the lyrical beauty of China’s past.

—Jennifer Baum Lagdameo


Steles - Huang Yi Project” is on view at Chambers Fine Art, Beijing, Sept. 5 – Nov. 1, 2015.


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