Peering Through an Open Door

July 2021

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[1]

She is tucked away in the corner of the room, camouflaged by a floral quilt and a pile of flannel cotton shirts wedged between the bed and the desk. She’s nestled in an alcove of the bed, the desk and the walls. Made to feel safe, in her fabric fort, she naps. Other than the ticking hand of the clock and the slight rhythmic rise and fall of her breathing, all is quiet.

 

He quickly steps through the jarred door to the middle of the room, camouflaged by his camera. It’s hard to infer how much time elapsed between his discovery of the napping girl and the pressing of his shutter. Photography is ‘an encounter, a surprise’ to the French Photographer Marc Riboud, so it’s unlikely that he had been there for long, meticulously composing a frame. I picture his right leg taking a small step backwards, his body subconsciously gives way to his camera as it lowers into a quick half squat. He holds a breath. And I hold a breath as I picture him.

 

Dreams are fleeting yet the photograph eternalises the act of dreaming. 


 

[2]

I imagine the moment was captured with a surge of spontaneity, driven by intuition and curiosity. 

 

I wonder, when Riboud made this napping girl the protagonist of a frozen frame, was he drawn into the stillness of the moment he stumbled upon? Did he linger for a while to make sure he didn’t disturb her dream? 

 

Surely the napping girl was unaware of the chance encounter. After all, it’s single-sided. but I wonder if she had ever found out about the photographer that had immortalized her nap in 1965. 

 

I believe that a photographer, although most of the time unseen, is never invisible in a photograph. 

 

A photographer’s intention is ingrained deeply within the frame he’s chosen, no matter how accidental or trivial. And to see a photograph, our sight is only built upon the eyes of the photographer. 


 

[3]

If it weren’t for a chance encounter at a preview for an auction, this particular photo by Marc Riboud probably would’ve never caught my eyes, for he had taken countless photos during his 22 visits to China over 60 years, and this particular photo is too unassuming in comparison to others. Although it is collected in “Visions of China”, aside from the book, very little can be found about the photograph. I don’t blame it, the first time I laid my eyes on it, I quickly dismissed it too. 


 

[4]

At first glance, my eyes darted and my mind jumped to judgement, I deemed the photograph ordinary. It captures a person taking a nap, a scene that any of us encounters on any day. So I moved on quickly. It’s easy for photographs to elicit reactions in me upon first sight because they are usually charged with immense energy. Although with this one, at best, it was a lolled curiosity that was largely fuelled by spectatorship — an ordinary photo (mercilessly deemed by me) by a famous photographer at an auction, an interesting case study on the value of art if nothing else. 

 

Strangely, as I walked through the entire exhibition, the photo slowly began to develop in my mind as it would have in a dark room. The elements in the scene manifested in a dream-like fashion, the dotted ordinary details that I had dismissed began to take hold of me. Even the blandness of the photo started to intrigue me — What sparked Riboud to capture this moment? Was he drawn in the same way I am? 

 

My curiosity soon grew beyond the initial spectatorship. As I’ve proven myself wrong, I was too quick to judge, the photo deserved more time. 

 

It pulled me back. 


 

[5]

This time, instead of looking, I tried to see. 

 

I realised that the ordinariness I observed earlier actually came from a sense of familiarity. This new understanding put me right in the moment. As I became the napping girl, I realised that what’s in front of my eyes, is an honest moment unembellished without worry — the worry of an outsider’s gaze. 

 

This is a moment only shared between the closest of family. This moment could be the strangest and most unfamiliar moment to our protagonist herself, yet it’s been eternalised and made so public. When one’s sleeping, how would she know what’s happening in the world outside her dreams? 

 

I was so intimately close to the moment. All of a sudden, I felt like an intruder, I became lamented for the thought of intrusion. 

 

Yet, I have been invited by Riboud, haven’t I? I was peering in through the door Riboud has opened for me, to see a moment like this, to be in a moment like this, I hold gratitude but also regrets in my heart as I keep seeing. 

 

Was this what Riboud felt too?


 

[6] 

According to the photographer’s note, ‘[t]he family’s most precious possessions are gathered in one corner of the room[.]’ Coincidentally, the objects that build up the family possession also fill up the rest of Riboud’s frame. 

 

Giving the objects a majority of the frame and tucking the napping girl away in the bottom corner, was it a conscious choice or an intuitive reaction? 

 

Perhaps Riboud also felt the intrusion I felt, therefore he let the surroundings take the unwanted attention away from the girl. Perhaps Riboud’s unconventional composition was driven purely by intuition, to include the world the girl sleeps in, as if it is what makes up her dreams. 

 

Or, did Riboud find similarity in the arrangement of the precious family possession and the western idea of the ‘Wunderkammer’? In that case, our napping girl, quietly slumbering away, is she the guardian of the family ‘Wunderkammer’, or, is the collection of family processions quietly guarding her?

 

“Leave her be,” as if they whisper quietly. “Leave her be,” as if the photographer echos the whisper with his camera. 

 

On this thought, I quietened my breath, held my body still, and covertly removed my gaze from her. I let my eyes drift in the room while she drifts away in her dreams. 



 

[7] 

When my gaze landed on the name on the Certificates of Merit on the wall, it was an exhilarating discovery, a ‘tiny spark of accident’. 

 

Struggling at the end of a feudal society in the 1930s and 40s, being able to make ends meet was a wish of many Chinese families. The name on the certificates, Jin Nengfu (金能富) is a name from this era. It’s probably the napping girl’s father’s name. The last name Jin (金)means “gold” or “money”, the given name “Nengfu”(能富)means “can become rich”. It carries a family’s humblest and most practical wish for a better life.  

 

In China, a name might not be sacred but it is always heavy. It carries the bloodlines and it carries the wish for a child to alter a family’s fate. But beyond that, it also mirrors the time one is born into, and it contains the shifts of society. 

 

Yet, a name that is ladened with a family’s wish and a country’s shifting circumstance is only reactive to its time. Wishful thinking is ground in reality but is rarely realized. 

 

Marc Riboud believed that ‘photography cannot change the world, but it can show the world, especially when it changes.’ 


 

[8]

This photo captures a moment in a housing project for workers in Changchun, China, in 1965. Between 1961 and 1965, the country has worked hard to revive socially and economically from the previous traumas. However, the gaps of ideologies and different agendas of the political leaders only lay out an unpredictable future. For a country that has persevered through many hardships and a society that is happy to embrace steady growth, another storm is brewing unbeknownst to the napping girl and the many like her. 

 

Against the social-political backdrop of Chinese society then, this lesser-known photo of a napping girl departs from a simple slice of life and takes on a new narrative. Riboud’s photograph captures such a placid moment yet it’s ironic to look back at the people that have struggled through the next decade with little peace of mind. 




 

[9]

Years have gone by, the China in Riboud’s vision has also changed dramatically. The country has long healed from the wounds of the past, fewer and fewer people will remember the growing pain of that particular era, but there will always be the version of China that Riboud captured with his camera. 

 

He was acting ‘[to] be the eyes [… to] the doors [that] are opening’. Being the silent observer, quietly slipping in and out of moments, he transported the viewers into the ephemeral eternities he weaved through his peering into the worlds. 

 

I wonder when the napping girl woke up from her slumber, did she sense the change in the air? ||














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Bibliography

 


 

[1]

她在房间的角落里,被一张花被子和一堆夹在床和桌子之间的法兰绒棉衬衫伪装起来。她依偎在床、书桌和墙壁制造的壁龛里。她在她的织物堡垒中安心地打盹。除了时钟的滴答声和她呼吸的轻微有节奏的起伏,一切都是安静的。

 

他迅速跨过没关紧的门,走到房间中央,他藏在他的相机后面。很难推断从他发现小憩的女孩到按下快门,这之间过去了多长时间。摄影对法国摄影师 Marc Riboud 来说是一次“邂逅、惊喜”,所以他不太可能在那里呆了很长时间来精心的构图。我想象着他的右腿向后退了一小步,他的身体下意识地给他的相机让位,快速进入半蹲状态。他屏住呼吸。想象着他的样子,我屏住了呼吸。

 

梦转瞬即逝,而照片却使这个“做”梦的行为永存。


[2]

我想照片里的这一刻应该是在直觉和好奇心的驱使下自发,甚至下意识地捕捉到的。

 

我想知道,当吕布让这个睡午觉的女孩成为他照片的主角时,是否是因为他被偶然发现的那一刻里巨大的宁静所吸引?他拍过照片之后,是不是逗留了一会儿,以确保没有打扰到她的美梦?

 

午睡的女孩肯定不知道这次偶遇。毕竟它是单方面的。但我想知道她是不是知道那个让她在 1965 年的午睡永恒的摄影师。


我相信一个摄影师,虽然大部分时间不出现在自己的照片里,但他/她永远都在他/她的作品里。

摄影师的意图在牢牢的扎根在他们所选择的拍摄对象里,无论多么偶然或微不足道。而第三者在看照片的时候,他们的视线永远都建立在摄影师的视线里。

[3]

如果不是在拍卖预展上偶遇,这张马克·吕布 (Marc Riboud) 的照片可能永远不会引起我的注意,他在 60 多年来 22 次访问中国期间拍摄了无数照片,而这张照片与他其他作品相比,太不起眼了。虽然它被收录在《中国的视野》中,但除了这边画册之外,关于这张照片的资料少之又少。我在第一次看到这张照片的时候,也很快就否定了它。


 

[4]

乍一看,我的眼睛飞快地跳过了照片里的元素,我的脑子过于武断的下了结论 -- 这张照片很普通。它捕捉到一个正在小睡的女孩,这是我们任何人在任何一天都会遇到的普通场景。所以我很快就决定把这张照片抛之脑后。很多照片容易引起我第一眼的反应,因为它们通常充满了巨大的能量。但对于这张照片,第一眼看上去充其量只是一种在很大程度上由旁观者助长的好奇心——一位著名摄影师在拍卖会上拍摄的一张普通照片(我毫不留情地认为),充其量是一个关于艺术商品价值的有趣案例研究。

 

奇怪的是,当我看完了整个预展,这张照片在我的脑海中慢慢开始成像,就像在黑暗的房间里一样。场景中的元素以梦境的方式跳出来,被我忽略的点点滴滴的平凡细节开始占据我的心。照片自身的平淡和平凡也开始引起我的兴趣——是什么激发了吕布捕捉这一刻?他和我一样被好奇驱使了吗?

 

我的好奇心很快就超越了最初的观众。由于我已经证明自己是错的,我的判断太过武断了,这张照片值得花更多的时间。

 

它把我的目光拉回来了。


[5]

这一次,我没有去看(look),而是试着去观察(see)。

 

我意识到,我之前看到的平凡,其实是一种熟悉感。这种新的理解让我在当下。当我成为午睡的女孩时,我意识到我眼前的,是一个不加修饰的诚实时刻,无忧无虑——没有对“外人注视”的担忧。

 

这是只有最亲近的家人才能共享的时刻。但这一刻对我们的主角本人来说可能是最陌生、最陌生的时刻,但它却被永恒化并公开化了。一个人睡觉的时候,她怎么知道梦之外的世界正在发生什么? 

 

我是如此亲密地接近那一刻。突然间,我觉得自己像一个擅自闯入者,我为的”闯入“而感到难过和羞愧。

 

然而,我是被吕布邀请的,不是吗?我透过吕布为我打开的门往里看,看到这样的时刻,在这样的时刻里,我充满感激,但也感到遗憾和羞耻,我目不转睛。

 

这也是吕布的感受吗?


 

[6] 

根据摄影师的笔记,“[t]她家最珍贵的财产都聚集在房间的一个角落[.]” 巧合的是,吕布的照片刚好被她和她的家庭财产的物品填满,没有一丝别的东西。

但是,让东西占据大幅的画面,却把午睡的女孩藏在底角,这是有意识的选择还是直觉的反应?

 

 

或许吕布也感受到了我的侵扰,所以他让东西占据画幅来把不必要的注意力从女孩身上移开。也许吕布的非传统构图并没有动机,但把女孩睡在其中的物质世界包括在内,仿佛它就是她梦的构造。

 

或者,吕布是否发现了珍贵的家庭财产安排与西方“Wunderkammer”概念的相似之处?既然如此,我们那静静睡去的小丫头,睡在家里的宝贝里,究竟是家族的守护者,还是家族的财产在悄悄守护着她?

 

“让她睡吧”就好像他们悄悄地耳语似的。 “让她睡吧”,仿佛摄影师用他的相机回应了这个耳语。

 

想到这里,我屏住呼吸,身体一动不动,偷偷将视线从她身上移开。当她在梦中游荡时,我的眼睛在她的房间里游移。



 

[7] 

我的目光落在墙上的奖状上的名字,这是一个令人兴奋的发现,一个“偶然的小火花”。

 

挣扎在1930年代、40年代封建社会末期,能够维持生计是许多中国家庭的心愿。证书上的名字“金能富”就是这个时代的名字。这大概是午睡女孩父亲的名字。“金”的意思是“金”或“钱”,“能富”的意思是“能富”,它承载着一个家庭对美好生活最卑微却最实际的愿望。 

 

在中国,一个人的名字可能并不神圣,但它总是很沉重。它承载着血统,承载着指望着孩子改变家庭命运的愿景。除此之外,它还反映了一个人出生的时代,它包含了社会的变迁。

 

然而,一个承载着整个家庭的愿望和折射国情的名字只是对它的时代做出的反应。这种一厢情愿的希冀在平凡的生活里扎根,但在现实生活中很少实现。

 

Marc Riboud 相信“摄影不能改变世界,但它可以展示世界,尤其是当世界发生变化时。”

 

 


 

[8]

这张照片捕捉了 1965 年中国长春工人住房项目中的一个瞬间。1961 年至 1965 年间,中国努力使社会和经济从先前的创伤中复苏。然而,意识形态的鸿沟和政治领导人的不同议程给百姓描绘了一个不可预测的未来。对于一个历经艰辛、乐于拥抱稳定增长的社会的国家来说,又一场风暴正在酝酿,这对于睡午觉的女孩和许多像她一样的人来说都是浑然不觉的。

 

在当时中国社会的社会政治背景下,这张鲜为人知的小睡女的孩照片脱离了简单的生活记录,呈现出了新的叙事。吕布的照片捕捉到了一个如此平静的时刻,但从今天回顾那些在1965年后的十年;里苦苦挣扎的人们,他们几乎没有平静的心情,这张照片又多了讽刺意味。

 

[9]

时隔多年,吕布眼中的中国也发生了翻天覆地的变化。这个国家早已从过去的创伤中痊愈,越来越少的人会记得那个特殊时代里成长的痛苦,好在吕布用相机捕捉到的中国版本永远存在。

 

他的行为是“[成为]眼睛[……]正在打开的门”。作为沉默的观察者,他在“瞬间”里悄悄地溜进溜出,将观众带入他通过凝视世界而编织的转瞬即逝的永恒。

 

不知午睡的少女从沉睡中醒来,是否感觉到了空气里的变化? ||














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Bibliography