Photographer: Brett Boardman
Conversation with Carol Carter [NSW Premiers Teachers Scholarship]

Conversation with Carol Carter [NSW Premier's Teachers Scholarship]

New Art China – Photo Media

My name is Carol Carter and I am an Australian secondary art teacher, Head Teacher of Creative and Performing Arts at Whitebridge High School, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia. I teach visual arts from years 7-12, as well as ceramics, photography and digital media.

I was the recipient of the NSW Premier's Contemporary Art Scholarship in 2011 which is awarded to one teacher in New South Wales to undertake a research project in contemporary art. I have chosen to research photomedia in China, as this is a specialist area of my teaching. The NSW Premier's Contemporary Art Scholarship is generously supported by Dr Gene Sherman AM and Brian Sherman AM, David and Angela Kent and the Nelson Meers Foundation. It has allowed me to travel to China in 2012 to study the use of photomedia in contemporary Chinese art and its relevance to the critical study of contemporary art practice by senior secondary students.

I have researched a number of contemporary artists from the major centres of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong who use a range of photomedia techniques and approaches in order to provide interpretative material for use by students and staff. This website has been developed for this purpose.

I have witnessed a growing interest in photomedia in education, evidenced by significant increases in photomedia works for the NSW Higher School Certificate. Photomedia is also becoming a major relevant cross-disciplinary expression of new art from China. The Chinese artists that I am particularly interested in use a mix of old and new technologies to produce often monumental works that rival painted works. I have seen works made from large format film, using cameras from the earliest days of photography, scanned and printed on a scale rarely seen in Australia. It is a very exciting time as the conceptual meaning of these works is also becoming powerful as these young artists gain maturity in their work and clarity of intention. Often political, these works have the potential to change belief systems.

Photography is a recent development in China's relatively young contemporary art history, which in itself is a post–Cultural Revolution phenomenon, emerging in the late 1970s with the relaxation of Communist controls, in force since the formation of the Peoples Republic of China in 1949. There has been a Photographers Association in China since that time, which was controlled by the Communist Party and designed to serve the people and show the construction of a new society in a positive light.

The images from this time provide some artistic photographic works, predominantly landscape, but the circumstances of the photographs didn't allow for a true documentary style or commentary on the social conditions of the time. The personal struggles that people endured during the Cultural Revolution contributed to the collective memory of artists who are now reaching a time of artistic maturity and reflection.

To understand the present in China today, one must gain an understanding of the impact of rapid change that has been part of post-Mao since 1976. The social and environmental impact of accelerated industrialisation and urbanisation, with the dislocation of enormous populations from the countryside, is reflected in photographic artworks. Many traditions and values have been threatened as part of the changes to society that accompany such periods of rapid economic growth. The freedom to photograph in a documentary style after 1976 produced many works that focused on the disadvantaged poor of Chinese society. Others artists engage in a struggle of resistance against the alienating effects of urban life as an individual subjective experience. Some artists seek to revisit traditional aesthetics in their works or refer to Chinese history from much earlier times.

Emerging artists are working in a time post–Tiananmen Square and reflect in their artwork the modernisation that has taken place since that event in 1989 and the adoption of a market economy in the late '90s. With the introduction of digital photography and high-tech printing facilities, this new generation of artists, though often trained in traditional painting and sculpture at art academies, embraced photomedia as the perfect means for expressing the changes taking place around them.

The artists can be placed into three groupings that show a similarity of intention in their works, although artistic practice evolves and intentions overlap and change in time.

1. Challenging the system – a search for personal and collective freedoms of expression

Artists who comment on government, social and political events:

2. Urbanisation and Environmental Degradation – the effects of accelerated development

This group of artists comment on the social and environmental impact of accelerated industrialisation and urban development:

3. A state of flux – a complex tangle of history and tradition

These artists seek to revisit traditional aesthetics or beliefs in their works or refer to Chinese history in some way.

For more information on these artists, visit Carol's blog at