When looking at the photographic work of Liu Shuwei, one is immediately taken back by the painterly qualities of his images, and the way that he is able to capture colors, texture, patterns, mood, and natural lighting. Originally from Tangshan in Hebei province, and now mainly based in Shanghai, Liu Shuwei is preoccupied by many creative endeavors, including poetry, translating texts, fashion design, but perhaps most importantly for him, film photography.
Shuwei usually shoots his personal work with a medium format Makina 67. What he enjoys most about shooting with film is that it has a certain kind of inaccuracy and roughness, which for him has a warm poetic quality that digital lacks. When asked to describe what his photographic style is like, he prefers just to say that it is eclectic. He strives to be able to master all the different styles of photography that he likes, but feels he has yet to reach that point.
There are a few recurring visual elements and motifs in his work. Shuwei likes to shoot in mysterious locations and landscapes that convey an unsettling kind of uncertainty. He is drawn to capturing calm scenes of simple folk life in small rural villages – staged or otherwise. His photographic subjects tend to be a bit cool, or perhaps even cold. Shuwei’s preferred lighting is soft, natural, faint, and as he likes to describe it, “romantic”. He rates JH Engström and Boris Mikhailov quite highly, as two of his favorite photographers ever.
One of the biggest challenges he believes he faces as an artist is actually internal. Shuwei believes that his introversion and shyness can often be a bit debilitating, especially when shooting and collaborating with others. Because he sometimes lacks initiative, Liu says that he is in a constant struggle with himself. “What an artist needs most is autonomy,” he says, “and this is what I actually lack”.
In addition to his photography, these past few years, he has also been designing his own clothes. It started out as just a hobby making custom clothes for himself, but soon as others saw the pieces that he was making, they also wanted to buy them. He admits that his interests are many and he wants to be able to continue working on all his of art projects and hobbies, not abandoning anything.
He has two photo projects that he is currently developing. The first one is related to subcultures in China. The other one is a series about his late grandmother. He is interested in searching for her spirit and follow the trail that he believes she left behind. For him, she is a mysterious and magical figure. When she was in her 50s, she converted to Catholicism. At that time, she was illiterate and couldn’t read. Shuwei gave her a Xinhua Chinese dictionary, and in a very short period of time, she grasped everything and knew the Bible by heart. When he was a small child, Shuwei was often rebellious to her authority. From the start, the two had a rather poor relationship. Through this photo project, he hopes to be able to reconcile his past with her.