‘The Port and the Image’ – Excavations of a Shipwreck
The invention of photography has provided humans with the ability to candidly record city views to retain them in our memories. Speaking of the city’s challenging role in preserving traditional memories in the face of industrialisation in his book The Media City: Media, Architecture and Urban Space, Australian communications scholar Scott McQuire explains, “due to its speed, relative low cost, widespread prevalence, and objective touch, photography has provided us a great relief from the increasingly urgent need for the preservation of cultural memories”.
Regional photographers capture monuments of historical or collective significance or ruins hidden beneath the passage of time. They have delineated a subsection of architectural photography that takes audiences on a journey towards the past. Helping build China’s contemporary atlas of photographic record is young photographer Zhu Lanqing, whose practice leads viewers to freely traverse between present and past. By using various narrative techniques to reconstruct specific architectural structures, spaces, and locations with the aid of historical records, Zhu demonstrates the capacity of photography to narrate history from multiple angles.
In 2017, Zhu Lanqing hoped to explore Quanzhou’s history and culture through Excavations of a Shipwreck, which is one of seven projects commissioned by the China Port Museum.
In 1973, a late Song Dynasty shipwreck was discovered on a beach near Quanzhou’s ancient Houzhou Harbour. After a year of excavation and multiple years of studies and examination, the research team unearthed a trail of historical objects that provided deep insight into ancient Quanzhou’s navigational systems and trade routes. The late Song Dynasty shipwreck has been heralded as one of the oldest large wooden sailboat shipwrecks found in China. Not only do the remains of the wreck highlight ancient China’s shipbuilding skills and techniques, the objects within the wreck serve as direct proof of Quanzhou’s importance in international trade and the prosperity of Quanzhou’s once booming manufacturing industry. But while the shipwreck served to reinforce many of history’s known aspects, it also unearthed many unknowns.
Rather than shooting the excavation site, Zhu chose to photograph the long-finished excavation process. With the help of an archaeological diary in a local museum’s archives, she meticulously rediscovered sites that archaeologists visited when they salvaged and verified the shipwreck’s artefacts, sites that attest to the booming local manufacturing industry.
Forty years after the excavation, Zhu imagined herself to be a member of the excavation team, visiting and shooting locations identified in the diary. At the same time, she borrowed from the archaeological diary’s archival materials to supplement her own photos. Placing the “two excavations” side by side, Zhu attempts to present a local landscape full of contrasts in which history coexists with modernity and agriculture with modern industry.
The coexistence of past and present continues to entrench itself in Zhu’s photographic work as she revisits these buildings and locations in her explorations of intersecting histories. Yet in her complicated narratives, the journey of exploration isn’t as easy as it looks.
Note about the artist
Zhu Lanqing, born in Dongshan Island, Zhangzhou, Fujian Province in 1991, currently lives and works in Xiamen. She graduated from the Department of Photojournalism at Renmin University of China and then moved to Taiwan to study at the Institute of Applied Arts in Fu Jen Catholic University. Her work, mostly related to home and places, has been published in many magazines and shown at several international art festivals. She is interested in the possibilities of the presentation of photography, especially handmade books. Her first book was listed as one of Photoeye’s Best Books of 2012. Her second book, A Journey in Reverse Direction, won the Three Shadows Photography Award 2014 and Jimei × Arles Discovery Award 2015. She also won the Barcelona International Photography Award 2015 and Photo Boite 30 UNDER 30 2016. She had an artist’s residency in Switzerland for three months that was supported by FDDM in 2016.