Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Review: Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom: Old and New World Visions of China

Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom: Old and New World Visions of China by Lukas Birk, 
published by Glitterati Incorporated,

Photographer: Lukas Birk

Nostalgia is an interesting thing. The dictionary defines nostalgia as 'a sentimental longing or wistful affection for a period in the past'. Recently I was given the opportunity to read and view this wonderful book of photographs called Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom: Old and New World Visions of China, published by Glitterati Incorporated, . It's an interesting book that looks at steadily changing China and how the author views the changing country through the lens of nostalgia.

Sanlitun Soho, Beijing, 2009
The author/photographer Lukas Birk relocated to Beijing in order to escape the sense of stagnation that he felt in his central European country of birth. When he arrived in China, he became part of a circle of like-minded young creative types who shared his outlook of "nostalgia teetering on the edge of melancholy". In the process of wanting to express this sentiment that they shared, Birk came across his father's collection of expired Polaroid film. He ended up using the old film to document the transformation of China and the aged film helps convey a sense of nostalgia about a quickly changing country. There is the clash of the old in the form of the expired film and the old China up against the modern China that is sprouting up every day.

Musing over Tiananmen, Beijing, 2010
View on the Bund, Shanghai, 2008

I love this idea that Birk has of using the medium of the expired Polaroid film because as I look at each photograph, my eyes first think they are seeing a retro image. Then my mind switches over to remember that these photos were taken from 2008 to 2010 on film that expired in 1991. We are given the chance to see rapidly changing China through a lens of nostalgia brought on by the effects of the aged film.

Performance Artist, Pingyao, 2008

Some photos have defects around the edges that look like teeth marks and some look as if sunlight has burned into them at points. The defects from the aged film come in from the edges but don't spoil the images at all. There is a beautifully haunting quality. It's as if the defects are seeping into the center of each image and after a certain amount of time the images will just magically disappear. The old is giving way to the new daily in China and the medium that Birk chose to convey this is perfect.

Trash Collector Family, Pingyao, 2008

Mao tattoo, Beijing, 2008
There is a foreword from art advisor Katherine Don in which she gives her thoughts on Birk's innovative work. And Lukas Birk himself gives the reader an introduction to his amazing book of photographs and explains his inspiration to capture the transformation of China in this unique way.

I found Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom: Old and New World Visions of China to be a moving book because I love stories told through photography. The photographs do the talking as there is only text in the short foreword and introduction. This is a large book and we are given a detailed look at each image. My eyes traveled around and into each photograph and saw something more each time.

This is an excellent book and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a celebration of life and nostalgia and documents how change happens right in front of us every day.

Polaroids from the Middle Kingdom: Old and New World Visions of China can be purchased here.

*Disclosure: I was sent a copy of this book for review. All opinions are mine.

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