Through Dust and Ruins: Photography by Tsung Woo Han

November 7, 1998 – January 31, 1999
The Chinese Culture Center is pleased to present an exhibition of 35 color photographs by Bay Area photographer Tsung Woo Han. This exhibition is made possible by a Photography Award from the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation, whose grant purpose is “to foster excellence in the photographic arts in the San Francisco Bay Area.”

Many artists have photographed China with a journalistic approach; others have focused on pure aesthetics. What makes the photography of Tsung Woo Han special is the combination of his knowledge of China’s history and his artistic sensibility. Born to Chinese parents in Seoul, Korea, Han has always felt close to Chinese culture. Prior to earning a degree in photography from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1985, Han lived in Korea, Paris, and New York. In 1988, he traveled for three months in China and photographed the northern parts of Shaanxi and Shanxi provinces. In 1997 and 1998, Han returned to photograph the people and the land between the desert and the cities.


Terracotta
“Terracotta,” Xian, Shaanxi, 1997

Many of Han’s photographs show the effects of time and how the Chinese incorporate the old into their present-day life. An old culture moving into the 21st century, China is a land of many contrasts, which are manifested poignantly in Han’s photographs as he juxtaposes city dwellers and rural farmers, ancient ruins and modern cities.

By isolating the subject from its surroundings, Han calls attention to something that would have gone otherwise unnoticed. A lone, white shirt drying in a garden suddenly becomes the focus of attention. The beautiful details of a carved doorway are now seen in a new light. Color is also important in Han’s images: it defines texture and age, and its vividness and intensity jump out at the viewer, acquiring a life of its own.


Beheaded Emissaries
“Beheaded Emissaries,” Tomb of Empress Wu,
near Xian, Shaanxi, 1997

The exhibition’s title, Through Dust and Ruins, seeks to convey the feeling that China—having gone through numerous dynastic upheavals, wars, natural disasters, and political changes—has always managed to rebuild itself like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Literally, dust refers to the dry conditions of the northern areas bordering the Gobi Desert, around which many ruins are scattered: the Tomb of Empress Wu near Xian, Maijishan’s Buddhist Grottos in Gansu province, and the Wutaishan pagodas near Beijing.

Han’s photography, capturing people and places on the threshold of dramatic change, serves as an artistic documentation of the co-existence of the new and the old in China. As Han himself says: “My photographs discover China’s past, see the changing present, and wonder about the future yet to come.”

An opening reception will be held for the artist on Saturday, November 7, from 2:00 to 4:30 p.m. A catalogue is also available for purchase in our gallery shop. The exhibit runs through January 31, 1999. Additional funding support for this project has been provided by Bank of the Orient, Grants for the Arts of the San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, and the California Arts Council.