China’s edgiest photography festival turns 15

The Rencontres de Arles is an internationally renowned French photography festival that has taken place every year since 1970, and has remained “a surprisingly gritty affair,” as a writer for The Guardian observed this summer.

China has its own version of Rencontres de Arles, at least in spirit if not quite in scale or prestige. The Lianzhou International Photo Festival, created in 2005, is currently celebrating its 15th anniversary from the small western Guangdong city of Lianzhou (pop. 400,000), featuring works from established and up-and-coming photographers alike. The exhibition spaces are converted factories, giving this festival a distinctly “gritty” feel.

Perhaps too gritty, in some cases. Authorities and censors have meddled before, and curators and organizers have expressed the need to be “careful” moving forward. How does an artistic and cultural event of size maintain its authenticity in China’s current climate? “Lianzhou’s curators have been smart, but will need to be smarter moving forward,” says Shenzhen-based photographer Lǐ Zhèngdé 李政德.

Click through to read more, as SupChina contributor Thomas Bird sends this dispatch from Lianzhou.

—Anthony Tao