BEIJING, THEATER OF THE PEOPLE
For his project Beijing, theatre of the people, Ambroise Tézenas won the 13th Leica European Publishers Award for Photography, presented by a jury of seven European publishers, in March 2006.
Recent history has been marked by China’s return to centre-stage, and by Western fascination with its extraordinary economic development. With a few rare and notables exceptions (Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marc Riboud), the few images of China, taken in the later half of the 20th century, were propaganda or covered tragic news events (Tiananmen Square). The opening-up of the country’s borders and the new freedom to move around have sparked a tremendous enthusiasm for discovering, exploring and showing. A trend to which photographers have heavily contributed. This curiosity finds a near-bottomless well of themes and images in the exponential development of China’s mega-cities (Shanghai, Beijing).
Beijing is where Ambroise Tézenas, a young freelance photographer, stayed five times between 2001 and 2005. He began by roaming the city tirelessly, walking through the districts, down the alleyways and around the countless construction projects in progress for the Olympic Games in 2008, soaking up an indescribable atmosphere of radical change on a gigantic scale. Like an Eugène Atget of Beijing, he scoured the capital city with heavy equipment – working with a view camera and stand. He took few, highly meticulous shots of daytime and night-time cityscapes, which he carefully located. Very paradoxically, the images offer a novel vision of Beijing today, in which people are scarcely present – evanescent actors in a teeming theatre, where every space is a set between two worlds. It was doubtless appropriate to prefer a slow pace, and to juxtapose wait-and-see observation with the expansionist frenzy, in order to achieve the grave and poetic force that characterises the Beijing of Ambroise Tézenas.