Linden Centre to Host International Photography Galleries
From August 1-31, the Linden Centre is supporting the Dali International Photography Exhibition by hosting two galleries: one featuring 1930s photographs by renowned photographer C.P. Fitzgerald, and another featuring photos of Shaolin Monks by Isabel Muñoz, curated by Jean Loh.
C.P. Fitzgerald Photos
Charles Patrick Fitzgerald (better known as C.P. Fitzgerald) was one of the premier China scholars of the 20th century. He first visited China in 1923, as a 21 year old student, and wrote numerous books about China, including one of the best anthropological studies of the Dali region- “Tower of Five Glories”, which was published in 1941.
Professor Fitzgerald lived in Dali during the 1930s and took treasured photos of the area. We are proud to be able to display 30 of Professor Fitzgerald’s original images. These photos capture a part of Bai culture that has disappeared during the ensuing 80 years.
The Linden Centre thanks Ms. Mirabel Fitzgerald, Professor Fitzgerald’s daughter, for sharing these special photos with the Dali people.
Jean Loh, “The Human Body as a Landscape”
Five or six years ago, I discovered thanks to Christian Caujolle a few prints of Shaolin Monks by Isabel Muñoz. I remember the sudden inexplicable feeling of euphoria at the sight of these monks dancing and flying. To a fan of “wuxia” novels that I was, it was like a dream come true. It was shortly after Ang Lee’s movie “Crouching Tiger and Hidden Dragon” came out, I was seized by the same emotion from the first minutes of the film. But unlike cinema, Isabel’s photography, in its splendid sobriety, made no use of faking or special effect, and this renders it all the more precious and fascinating to me. I was especially fascinated by this direct confrontation of photographic realism with almost dreamlike magical scenes.
In 1998, Isabel Muñoz came to China with the help of the Spanish Embassy in Beijing to embark on a trip that led her to the foot of the pantheon of martial arts, the Shaolin Temple of Songshan. These Shaolin monks at the time thanks to kung fu movies from Hong Kong were already known around the world. Their monastery was surrounded by a hundred martial arts schools in which students training for years just for a final entrance examination, either to the Shaolin Monastery for the best among them, either into the army or police for the others. Fanatics and curious visitors flocked from afar, they came knocking on the monastery’s door, to see and to learn their secrets. So understandably there was a moment of skepticism and mutual observation before giving way to total trust between the photographer and her models.
How Isabel, a woman from Europe, not speaking the local language, was able to convince the monk-warriors to dance for her, to do the movements she wanted, they who had until now become so accustomed to deploying their routine demonstration for television and reporters? Isabel began by showing them her previous works, on Tango, Flamenco dancers, and on the Turkish wrestlers. When finally the monks agreed to reveal what each of them did best, it was time to identify the most choreographic movements in their boxing or fencing. For the décor Isabel proceeded to “tracking the energy of the place” and chose to move away from architectural stereotypes, instead she focused practically on the ancient walls and the dirt floor. Here was an extraordinary opportunity to continue her study of the body, especially the body in motion, and the energy that emerges which she always identifies with a spiritual dimension. “Too much architecture kills mysticism,” she said. This remarkable minimalism is obtained by separating, obliterating the “Shaolin” context in spite of the tempting beauty of ancient stone. She also had to familiarize the monks with the presence of the photographic equipment they had never seen before: flash, reflector, umbrella, tripod, and three cameras: Hasselblad (6×6), Leica (24×36), and Mamiya (6×7). It looked as if she had carried to the heights of Songshan Mountains her photo studio, for an intimate sitting between the photographer and her subjects.
So began the most difficult part, how to overcome the language barrier to explain the desired shot? After an entire morning spent trying to make the monks jump, dejection came.
“I was so desperate; all they did were tiny little jumps!” As the monks left for lunch, Isabel did a trial with her assistant David, a former basketball player who had put on weight, “can you leap as if you fly in the air?” And miracle! The Polaroid got the right shot! And that Polaroid print had piqued the monks’ pride, they were now motivated to prove their real talent. They also understood the causal relationship between their moves and what would be stored inside Isabel’s cameras. From this magical complicity came extraordinary images, portraits of stunning classicism. The Photo Studio now reduced to a confined space, with the gray walls of the monastery set as a backdrop, forming an enclosure where Isabel could fully engage in a body to body confrontation with the warrior-monks, given the martial dimension of the session, the shooting felt at times like a corrida between the bull and the toreador. The Shaolin monks had no other way out but to transcend themselves.
Isabel knew from her accumulated experiences of dance photography, how to capture the pulsating energy that was gushing through the feet, the fist, and the fingertips. In the symbolism of the human body, according to the Taoists, Man, standing between Heaven and Earth, is a landscape, in which an inner eye would see the mountains and waters and energies circulating in-between. In the Judeo-Christian concept the human body is a tree, which would also join the Indian thought, which views the body as an inverted tree. Thus in the practice of yoga; one of the fundamental origins of the Shaolin martial arts, the headstand posture represents a tree right-side up. By immobilizing them on the ground, in the air, or in the midst of a fall, or in the inverted posture, in these moments of pause, fixed concentration, and suspended breathing, Isabel has erased all martial semantics retaining only the beauty of the choreography.
Isabel Muñoz’s practice is not a photography of movement, but a photography of landscape. She lets us see in these monks: trees, mountains, sculptures, a still life that invites meditation. And in the contemplative stillness we are touched by an energy that is directed towards one single goal: deliverance.