Latent Images: Panoramic Photographs of China

Colin Corneau

“A Western visitor to China once observed, "If I visit China for a week, I can write a book. If I visit China for a year, I could write, perhaps, a page. And if I spent my whole life in China I could only write one sentence about it." This comment recurred to me many times, as I went through the images made from my visits to China.  It has been my observation that, for most people here, China is understood through either romanticized images of a bygone time (nostalgia-past), or nightly news reports (uncertain future).  Therefore, my many visits to China and the documentation that comprises this exhibition is a way for me to understand China in the present tense.  I simply wanted to be there and see this place and its people for myself. It was my hope that by capturing these small moments I could later examine and understand, more fully, my experiences in this unique country.”

Colin Corneau | Artist Statement, 2008


“Latent”, if researched in a thesaurus, can be substituted with the word “hidden”, referencing the unknown or non-visible. This is exactly what Corneau captures in his exhibition “Latent Images: Panoramic Photographs of China.” The unknown communities and peoples of China are exposed in this exhibition.  The works in “Latent Images: Panoramic Photographs of China” are the remainder/reminders of his experiences in China.

Corneau, like many artists, is enamored with China. The series of works in this exhibition are narratives, much like their titles, telling a story of a foreigner in a foreign place.  The focus of this series, for Corneau, is on the people, not necessarily the politics, via photojournalistic style black and white photographs.  In using documentary style photography to portray his experiences, Corneau runs the risk of being subjected to postcolonial critique.  At its mildest, this critique would suggest that as a Caucasian Westerner his photographs of Eastern life are merely touristic and trite.  At its most severe, his works might be seen as voyeuristic, appropriating a people and life that is not his to portray.  However, I think that his work steps out of the confines of the above criticisms. Remaining true to his photojournalist roots only in aesthetic, Corneau defies this convention through his process. Befriending many people in China, locals helped Corneau in discovering the China that exists outside or sensational news broadcasts.  Through the process of teaching Corneau some broken Mandarin to sharing delicious recipes, these guides helped show Corneau what it means to be Chinese in the new millennium.  The photographs in this exhibition, in some respects, could be considered a collaborative effort between guide and foreigner.

The works in the exhibition display the marvels and the mundane aspects of China.  Perhaps in the end relaying that, although extremely diverse in many ways, our two countries are more similar than we think.  


 Colin Corneau is a Brandon-based photographer interested in using digital and analog photography to explore and convey Chinese culture.  His career in photojournalism has honed an interest in people and a straightforward, documentary-oriented visual style.  These two attributes were invaluable in his time in China.
Currently Corneau is a staff photographer for the Brandon Sun and has been a newspaper photographer since 1990. The artist would like to thank Weiming Zhao for labeling the works, his collaboration has been invaluable in the final realization of these photographs

Amber Andersen | Curator, Exhibitions and Education, 2009