Friday, 21 September 2012

While documenting the Cultural Revolution, photojournalist Li Zhensheng took photos of atrocities being carried out at the time, which he hid under the floorboards of his home. As his work goes on display at the Barbican in London, Li tells me how he got started and why history makes images important…

How did you get into photography?
When I was in secondary school I wanted to be a film director. I enrolled at the Changchun film school, majoring in cinematography, but my dream was crushed in the early 60s as a result of the great famine after the Great Leap Forward movement. None of my classmates could become cinematographers so we all went into news photography. That was in 1963, when I was 22.

How has your film training influenced your approach to photography?
Some of my pictures use cinematography techniques. When shooting a film you can roll your camera to take a panoramic view but in photography you can’t. So I used the camera to shoot individual photos, but in sequence.

If you could start your career again, what would you do differently? 
If I were starting my career now, I would probably choose to be a director, because you can do lots of things with it. But during the Cultural Revolution it was impossible to be a film director or cinematographer because what you produced was just political rubbish. My work is an unintended result of my using cinematographic skills to take photos. I don’t feel any regret about my work [as a photographer]. The films made during the Cultural Revolution were just products, not works of art.

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