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Photovision Magazine

Book Reviews
Close To The Eyes
The Portraits of Xiao Hui Wang
Text By Tilman Spengler
Prestel, $39.95
ISBN 3-7913-2485-3

Review by: Gregory W. Blank
From Vol. 2 No. 6

One’s first instinct is to glance at the pictures throughout most books. At first glance I am struck by the directness of communication between, viewer-photographer and the subjects within this book. The portraits of Xiao Hui Wang, place you the viewer exactly in her point of reference regarding her subjects. It is a unique photographic talent that can convey a sense of recognition between viewer and subject. The images within Xiao Hui’s book are not contrived, not staged but very direct communication of familiar recognition. In part the explanation for Xiao Hui’s intuitive talent can be found within the text of this book.

It is most interesting, if not humbling to read of a fellow photographers’ hardships as well as the path taken towards becoming the photographer one is. Xiao Hui Wang most certainly had a difficult path by western standards. Xiao Hui was born during and raised throughout the early days of The People’s Republic of China. Artistic freedom and expression were seriously limited during the cultural revolution in the 1960s. Xiao Hui’s parents at one point separated to protect her from a government which persecuted intellectuals. Xiao Hui’s mother was a music teacher, her father an engineer; this made them targets, as well as valued to their country.

Although the subtle details of Xiao Hui’s life are best left to the reader, it is here stated that Xiao Hui’s story is very remarkable and worth the investment of time to read. One point that is directly of interest to the photographer, Xiao Hui’s first film was developed by her. Without use of a darkroom, at night using a wash bowl, Xiao Hui had to draw the film through the chemistry. Xiao Hui checked the film for proper development by the light of a red paper-masked torch.

Upon the death of Mao, and the end of the cultural revolution, Xiao Hui was able to attend Tongji University in China. Although she studied architecture, Xiao Hui remained interested and active in photography using better equipment provided by the school. It was at the Tongji University, that Xiao Hui met her husband Yu Lin. Through the University Xiao Hui and Yu Lin were enabled to travel abroad to Germany on separate grants. It was in Germany, that Xiao Hui’s photography flourished, the art and publishing communities took notice, and numerous offers to publish and show her work came forth.

While in Germany Xiao Hui and her husband were in a serious automobile accident, she was hospitalized and her husband was killed. Xiao Hui gained new insight and direction from the events and true friends that surrounded her and supported her emotionally.

The story of Xiao Hui is one of struggle and of wisdom. The photographic plates within Close To The Eyes, convey the photographer’s deep sense of connection to her subjects. Both reader and photographer will find enlightenment within the pages of this book. GWB