“On the attempt to cover-up and induce amnesia on an historic event, negatives have more direct impact as evidence than normal photographs or digital media. However, perhaps using this form to immunize against amnesia is not that important. What should be carefully considered are the social conditions that have resulted in the prolonged process of completing these works.”

— Photographer Xu Yong

These photographic negatives were taken 25 years ago, during the much-censored Tiananmen Square Protests in Beijing, China, June 4, 1989. They are presented as “negatives” in the book, “Negatives”, published in 2015 by New Century Press, Hong Kong.



Instructions for viewing the negatives as positive images:

To interact with the works in Negatives with your iPhone or iPad, go to “Settings” “General” “Accessibility” and turn on “Invert Colors”. Then use the camera to reveal the positive images of the negative works. Other devices have similar functions, such as camera setting “Color Effect - Negative”.


Negatives — An Introduction by Shu Yang

In traditional photography, the negative image is the most direct way of capturing an analogue image through photochemistry; it is the basis of a traditional photograph. At the moment the negative image is being formed, it cannot be immediately viewed by the photographer. To really understand the photograph’s entire message, the image must be completed through the powerful development process of the darkroom.

Thus an important part of the traditional photographer’s work is precisely anticipating the traditional negative image’s visual effect. This indirect imaging skill often determined a photographer’s expertise, and to other people it could feel unfamiliar and mysterious. With this indirect imaging skill, the traditional photographer takes mastery over problems, and at the same time acquires a kind of professionalism and authority that gave traditional photography a monopoly over the world of visual imagery.

Before the invention of photography, this monopoly was controlled by painting, and today, this monopoly has once again been broken and seized from traditional photography by digital technology. Digital photography, through the direct use of the camera lens, obtains the image in complete accordance with the real visual image, and does not need to go through any kind of negative of the filming scene to obtain its image. The traditional photographer has lost his monopolistic authority over visual authenticity, and through the supplanting of analogue technology by digital technology, everyone can effortlessly capture the external world’s true image.

Photographers are capable of examining the quality of a traditional photograph, and at the same time using the negative image to see the real world’s image. Traditional photography’s truthfulness was first established on the negative. As direct evidence of the real world’s image, the negative was even more real than the reproduced photographs that came from it. To ordinary viewers, the photographic plate’s negative image is the complete antithesis of the real world’s visual authenticity. Thus, traditional photography’s authenticity relies upon photographic experience in order to be constructed, and does not genuinely exist in the image itself. Photography’s original purpose to both preserve the real world’s living image and to create seems today, by the very nature of the media itself, to pose a challenge to objectivity. As proof of the world, traditional photography can only obtain a kind of suggestion, which is not self evident. This characteristic of photography has been even more thoroughly interpreted by digital imagery. The visual reality of digital imagery makes it so anyone can effortlessly capture a scene and effortlessly select and falsify. Digital technology has strengthened the fictitious aspect of photography’s authenticity. Digital technology has added more thoroughly to photographic transformation so that it has become possible to arbitrarily write and transform visual versions, to make it possible to satisfy even more fully the desire for a world of pictorial brilliance.

Today, in the environment of digital technology, the decline of the traditional photographic plate negative’s capacity to function as the expression of truthful imagery is much like the yellowed book-binding threads of old historical books, its function as visual evidence stronger even than the words of recorded history themselves. After a quarter of a century, Xu Yong digitally scanned his negatives, shot in 1989 of the June Fourth Tiananmen incident, and presents them directly here as negative images. The purpose is to revisit this important historic event and to reflect on its continued impact.

As he expressed himself:

“On the attempt to cover-up and induce amnesia on an historic event, negatives have more direct impact as evidence than normal photographs or digital media. However, perhaps using this form to immunize against amnesia is not that important. What should be carefully considered are the social conditions that have resulted in the prolonged process of completing these works.”

Xu Yong borrows the negative image photographic plates to remind us that the Tiananmen massacre is still forbidden from public discourse by the Chinese government, and the commemoration of this unbearable reality is even further proscribed. But even more than that, they raise questions about people’s collective memories of the events of June 4, 1989. In the works, the real description of history seems constrained by the dark imagery of the negatives, yet it achieves unfamiliar sensations as the eyes of the spectator are continuously seeking. These images of the June Fourth incident are similar to many other photos of the same event. Although this way of using negative photographic plates presents important historical fact, to decipher them only from the viewpoint of political correctness is not enough.

As far as the transmitting of information, Xu Yong’s negatives of June Fourth would be more effective as normal photographic images than as negative images. The core meaning of Xu Yong’s work “Negatives” is not only to declare the value of the photographic medium as evidence. Xu Yong uses what is revealed and illuminated in “Negatives” to remove the covers hiding morality and bravery, for traditional photography to seek new value in the digital age. This new value is not merely a continuation of traditional imagery’s original rationale; it also contains a unique creativity, especially in the meaning of fine art photography. On an unprecedented global scale, the traditional photographic industry has declined rapidly. Traditional photography as information technology has lost its original value and advantage. Xu Yong’s “Negatives” not only makes history and justice re-appear by refusing to forget; it also contains the basic creative concept: by transforming itself as new art, traditional photography can be reborn.

3rd September 2014, Beijing, Songzhuang



底 片

文 / 舒陽

傳統底片的影像,是光化學攝影術最直接獲得的模擬影像,是獲得一張傳統照片的基礎。在獲得底片的影像時,通常不能被拍攝者直接觀察到。真正要瞭解照片的完全信息,需要通過暗房沖印才能充分確定。因此傳統攝影師的重要工作經驗,就是預估底片影像的成像效果。這種間接性的影像技術常常意味著一個攝影師的技術水準,對普通人來說具有一種陌生感和神秘感。傳統攝影師由這種間接性影像技術掌握的難度,在獲得一種專業性的同時,也獲得了一種權威性,獲得了傳統攝影對世界視覺形象真實的壟斷性。這種壟斷性,在攝影發明之前是被繪畫所把持的。而今天,這種壟斷性又被數字技術所打破並從傳統攝影中攫奪。數字技術直接將通過鏡頭獲取的影像轉換成符合視覺真實的形象,不需要再通過無法在拍攝現場直觀的底片去獲得世界的影像。傳統攝影師對視覺真實性的壟斷不再,通過數字技術對模擬技術的取代而使人人可以輕鬆抓取外在世界的真實影像。

從傳統底片中,有經驗的攝影師能夠檢驗照片的質量,並同樣將負像也看做真實世界的影像。從傳遞信息真實角度看,傳統攝影的真實性首先建立在底片上。底片負像是比照片正像更為直接的一次性的外部世界影像。但對普通人而言,至少負像完全背離了世界的視覺真實性,底片負像是世界視覺影像真實性的徹底的反面。因此可以說,傳統攝影的真實性是依托攝影實踐經驗構建的,而不在於影像本身。攝影原為保留真實世界的逼真視覺形象而發明,在今天看來,從其媒介本身已經動搖了這種客觀性。作為世界的證據,通過傳統攝影只是獲得了一種暗示,而不是自明的。攝影的這一特性,被數字影像更加充分地詮釋了。視覺真實的數字影像可輕鬆現場抓取和輕鬆選擇、篡改。數字技術強化了攝影的這種虛擬的真實性。數字技術更加徹底地將攝影轉化成為可以任意書寫的視覺文本,使它成為更加滿足人的訴求性的世界圖景。

在今天數字技術環境中,傳統底片對表達真實影像實用功能的衰退,很像發黃的線裝書所呈現的歷史文獻,作為證據的視覺感大於歷史記載本身。時隔四分之一世紀,徐勇將他1989年所拍攝的「六四」事件底片經數字掃瞄直接以負像形式呈現為個人新作《底片》,意在以此反思這一重大歷史事件及現狀。他在有關自述中寫道:「對試圖遮蔽、製造人們遺忘歷史的行為,底片比照片及數字媒介更具直接強烈的證據意義。以這種方式抗拒遺忘或證明事件也許不重要,值得關注和思考的是與這件作品相關的時間和環境因素,它們是比我更重要的作品作者」。徐勇借負像底片形式,寓意「六四」事件迄今仍被中國官方禁止談論、遑論以正常照片方式公開發表的不堪現實。這些底片似乎在質詢著人們對「六四」事件的群體記憶,在其中,對歷史的真實描述彷彿被底片的暗淡影像所壓抑,反而得到一種需要在不斷辨識中強化的陌生化效果。這些關於「六四」事件的影像,是那個時代許許多多同類影像的一部分。這樣使用負像底片方式呈現重大歷史事實,僅用政治正確性來解讀是不充分的。《底片》的核心意義,不再僅僅昭示攝影的證據價值。

如果在信息傳播的層面,徐勇應將「六四」事件的底片製成正常照片才更加有效,而不是以負像方式直接呈現。徐勇用《底片》觀照的不僅僅是影像的證據性及其去蔽的道德勇氣,還在於要為傳統攝影尋找其在數字時代新的價值系統。這個新的價值系統不但延續傳統影像的原有合理性,又具有獨特的創意性,特別是在攝影的藝術創新層面。規模空前的全球性傳統膠片工業在幾年間迅速衰亡,意味著作為信息技術的傳統攝影失去原有價值優勢。徐勇的《底片》,除了再次使歷史與正義以新的面目拒絕被遺忘,它所蘊含的基本創作觀念在於:成為新的藝術,傳統攝影可以重獲新生。

2014年9月3日,北京宋莊

如果您希望與這本畫冊的底片作品互動,請使用iPhone或iPad,在設置的「通用」欄中找到「輔助功能」項,打開其中「反轉顏色」功能按鈕,再用照相方式觀看,您將獲得底片作品的正像信息。其他手持設備有類似「色彩反轉」功能。

Negatives
by Xu Yong
Publisher: New Century Press, Hong Kong, 2015


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See also the excellent essay about this book in Lens blog of The New York Times.