Holgas, Hikes and Holes

Posted On November 9, 2011 by Jennifer Schwartz

After our epic search for a great Chinese restaurant, we spent the next morning in portfolio reviews. Like many things on this trip, the communication was a little sparse and last-minute, having found out about these portfolio reviews at 10pm the previous night. But I was game. I love me a portfolio review.

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Review table. My name in Chinese.

We sat down at a long table (we being the ten curators) with a translator. Mine was Stephanie, an English teacher at the university. I love the American names everyone assigns themselves. There was also a Zoe, a Tiffany, a Eunice. I think it would be very fun to pick out a new name for myself. I’ve asked around about female Chinese names, and I think Jing suits me, so please refer to me as such while in-country.

Across from us were five or six rows of long tables of photographers – the first few rows were Chinese photographers, the last few were the US photographers we brought with us for our exhibition. There was a portfolio walk (with most of our photographers lacking any materials to show, since again, we were all unprepared for this new item on the itinerary). I saw a couple of interesting things in the portfolio walk, but for the most part the Chinese photographers there were not close to the level of the US photographers we had curated into our show. (I have seen some great Chinese work at the exhibitions and will have a show of their work in Atlanta next year, but this particular event did not bring out the talent.)

Each curator did six, 20-minute portfolio reviews, and between the language barrier, the translator, and the caliber of work, it was quite an experience. I will give one example. I sat down with a very enthusiastic photographer who pulled a stack of glossy snapshots out of a plastic baggie. (For those of you not well-versed in the portfolio review scene, typically a photographer sits down with a large, clamshell portfolio box filled with about 20 exhibition quality prints. And they’re not glossy.) As I’m flipping through the first stack, I notice they are all vignetted (darker in the corners, more circular around the image) and square and ask if they are shot with a Holga. Much translator confusion. How you say Holga? Just Holga. Holga? Yes, Holga. It’s a camera. He’ll know. Well, he didn’t know. But that’s because he pulled out his point and shoot and started scrolling through the back screen to show me the special vignetting feature he used. Oh.

Putting the strangest portfolio review experience of all time behind me, I spent the rest of the day checking out the other exhibition spaces in the city while intermittently ducking into stores to sample the wares. There are some great clothes here, but at first I thought they only sold children’s clothes in China. Not so, just a little population. One store clerk was determined to show me that a jacket I was looking at would fit me, but unless it was supposed to be cropped at the forearm, it was a no-go.


Post-hike lunch with Will Mebane, Alexandros, Chris Churchill, Noelle Swan Gilbert and Karen Irvine

After several days in Lishui, people were clammoring to get out of the city, so Yan (the coordinator for the US delegation of the festival) organized a bus to take us to a sword-making factory and a porcelan factory. We got on the bus at 8am and were dropped off two hours later at a pavillion on the side of a mountain. Turns out, the first stop was a one+ hour hike up a mountain to an ancient Chinese village. The scenery was gorgeous, even though the place was clearly set up as a tourist center (beautifully paved path, railing made to look like twisted logs but was really concrete, man in the field with a hoe in “traditional” dress that gave you the feeling of being in Colonial Williamsburg next to the butter churner). And skinny jeans and tall boots does not an athletic outfit make. But at the top of the mountain we had the most delicious meal of the trip, and we were thrilled to learn we wouldn’t be hiking back down the mountain, since the bus was waiting for us at the top.

Melanie McWhorter and I also had a lovely “commune with nature” moment, searching for a place to pee, and finding a lovely spot next to a crabapple bush, which reminds me that I have not addressed the bathroom situation here. Other than at our hotel, every bathroom, even in the nicest of places (like the fancy theater where the opening ceremony was held), lacks a toilet. So when you open the door to the stall, there is just a porcelain encircled hole with slight treading on the side to put your feet on. At this point I have mostly perfected my peeing in the hole technique, but I must say it is a challenge to squat low enough to aim properly, relax enough with the horrid smell, concentrate on not losing your balance, because the floor is wet with urine and your quad strength could get compromised if you’re not careful, and hold whatever belongings you have with you, because there are no hooks on the door, and placing on the floor is not an option (see “wet with urine” above). It’s intense.

Sword making.

Pottery factory.

So on to sword-making and pottery – an hour or two to stroll around small buildings where people were working on various steps of the crafts. It was interesting to see, but mostly a shopping excursion. That, of course, totally works for me.

Today the light rain we had yesterday has escalated to a full-on rain shower. There was a closing ceremony in the morning, and then we took down the work from the exhibition. Yan has coordinated the show to travel around the country, which I think is very exciting.

Having mostly figured out how to order room temperature beer and wine by this point, I think people are ready to celebrate tonight before we all head out of Lishui tomorrow morning. I heard talk of a karaoke place. Will definitely report back on that one.


Tags: China, holga, Lishui Photography Festival, portfolio reviews,