100 Faces – a photographic art project at Westbund Museum Shanghai

Living in Shanghai for over 12 years, we often wondered about cultural differences and how they show during daily life. Of course we read many books about culture clashes and different behaviours in business relations or private interactions.

In our Shanghai life we also had many diverse experiences on this topic. From situations similar to those out of one of these how-to books, to the ones where you start to see your own culture from a different angle and start to reflect the advantages and shortcomings of both cultures in a more distinguished way. And then there are the moments of realization that in the end we are all human beings and do not differ as much as we sometimes are inclined to think. Take children as an example: there is nonverbal communication above a foreign language, playfulness, spontaneity, quickly changing emotions… no matter in which part of the world the interaction takes place. 

As a photographer the question arises: what if one puts the main focus on the visual perception? If you just take one hundred faces, randomly, uncensored, just as life happens? Will this create a bigger image that shows more than the single person who is portrayed for it?

And here is our project:

In collaboration with the BookArt bookshop of the Westbund Museum at the Huangpu waterfront, we prepared a one day event. In the light flooded atrium, which the visitors reach after they enter the museum, we built our small stage. It consisted of a simple stand with a bright blue background and in a certain distance an installation of a golden frame, hanging in the air. In front of it the camera – on a tripod, equipped with a ringflash.

Visitors were invited to step behind the frame and pose for a photo as they like. There is no specification whatsoever, they were free to present themselves in their own manner. We just explained the setting and what we wanted to do with the portraits afterwards. The idea was to create a big image of roughly 100 frames put together in rows besides and below each other, similar or as an association to the presentation of framed paintings in a museum. Contemplating it, the observer can decide for himself or herself whether to view detailed single photos or the big picture and the overall composition.

The project is a snap-shot of one location on one day with people who are there by chance and who are interested in participating. Most of the visitors approached us with an open mind, curious and interested. There came single persons, couples, friends, families and, of course – children.

Some were shy, some were proud, some claimed their spot straightforward and reminded us of Andy Warhol and his saying that everybody in the future will get his 15 minutes of fame, some were eager to support or be part of an art project, some just wanted to have fun with their pals or create a family memory. There were participants who needed to have a look first how it worked with others, others who wanted to check that there won´t be a demand to pay after the photo is taken, children who were keen and showed off like pros, and others who were shy first and opened up later, some who needed one of their parents on their side, others stayed reluctant but wanted to be a part of it nevertheless.

We are quite sure there are many hidden stories and personal motivations which are welcome to stay a secret. Our sincere thanks are given to all the participants who were willing to support this project! We were happy to have you there and sincerely hope you like the result.

So, please look at the final picture and enjoy what you discover!

(Author: Barbara Tremba-Pietz)