Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Reflection on my Exhibition


A few weeks back I had another post on the Resolve Blog. Please read below:

I recently had an exhibition on my work from Chinese Turkistan, or Xinjiang, China, in Toronto, Canada a few weeks back. And for those readers who aren’t familiar with the process of putting on a gallery show, it can be a very trying experience for any photographer, emerging or established.

The first thing that comes to mind when someone says gallery exhibitions is money. Cash, and cash flow, dominate our lives and setting aside a significant portion of money to research, produce, print, mount and frame is not an easy task by any means. But I’ve found a way, and this is my experience.

In the early days of my time in China I realized that I had a strong connection to the province of Xinjiang, the mainly Muslim region in northwest China. I had traveled there often and felt an immediate passion to tell the story of the people who lived there. But while this passion existed for sometime it didn’t translate in to actually making images there for some years later. In fact it wasn’t until I visited the region on assignment in 2005 that I was able to jump-start my motivation again. That year I visited Xinjiang 4 times, and the following years was much the same. I felt determined not to let this moment slip by, but what moment am I referring to?

The Chinese portion of the Silk Road, once known as Chinese Turkistan, is changing before our very eyes. Old mud brick homes and labyrinth-like old towns are being torn down in the name of “progress”. It’s not an easy thing to stomach, watching a culture and a way of life change month in and month out. My conviction is strong. I am dedicated to the region for the long term.

But once the images are made, what then? Well they need to be developed and then edited, which is something I can manage easily enough. Scans should be made so that you can pitch around your story ideas and perhaps introduce your work to new editors and gallery owners. And if a gallery owner bites and is interested in a show, you need to be ready to actually produce a show; but what does that actually mean?

In my case it means editing my work to a specific set of guidelines usually created by the gallery curator and myself. Then my Kodak TriX 400 negatives are picked up in Toronto and sent over to my printer who hand prints the show in a wet dark room, yes; just like back in the old days. The results, from my printer Bob Carnie, are magical. What Bob can do with a 35mm negative is remarkable and inspiring. Once the print is dried and flattened then it’s mounted, signed and framed. Seems like a simple process but choosing sizes, mounts, frames; as well as watching your costs, and collaborating with the gallery on a guest list is enough to make you want to scream out: “I just want to take pictures, and not deal with all of this other crap!”

As the emotional upheaval reaches it’s darkest hour, then comes the opening. You put on your suit, try to remember to shave, and engage with a captive audience by expressing the passion you carry for your work and your dedication to documentary photography. Because my work is from a remote land and often a misunderstood place, I try always try to give a 20-30 minute lecture prior to each show for those who are interested in coming a bit early for some background to the region and some details of my own past.

I was very touched during this most recent show when a couple, both Uygur refugee’s living in Toronto, attended and thanked me for caring and educating people about their homeland. It was an incredibly touching moment given that the couple had not been in touch with both their parents and two teenage children who are still in Urumqi, the city which experienced ethnic riots in early July.

My photography may not be for everyone, and it may not be very suitable for people to purchase and hang in their homes or offices, but it has a place in this world, it has to. The region of Xinjiang, with its rich Silk Road history and unique culture, is being drowned out by Chinese development and “progress at any cost”. The future for the region is bleak; my only hope is that I can make enough trips out there and continue this journey I’ve set myself on. I hope you enjoy viewing the images.

Ryan Pyle

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This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle