Tableaux Vivants – Part 1 (Xiamen)








Project Location

Xiamen also known as Amoy, is a coastal sub-provincial city in southeastern Fujian province, People’s Republic of China. It looks out to the Taiwan Strait and borders Quanzhou (Chôan-chiu) to the north and Zhangzhou (Chiang-chiu) to the south. Xiamen and the surrounding countryside are famous for being an ancestral home to overseas Chinese and is one of China’s earliest Special Economic Zones to attract foreign investment, particularly from overseas Chinese. The city grew and prospered from foreign investment and trade. Trade and direct travel is allowed between Xiamen and Taiwan. Xiamen covers an area of 1 565 km² with a total population of 2.5 million. It was recently named China’s 2nd ‘most suitable city for living’.

Project Description

Edward van Herk attempts to create street photography in which anticipation and composition are combined to create photographs full of life. Besides pictorial qualities (composition), the intrinsic quality of the camera (spontaneity or chance) is utilized, to create modern photographic tableaux. Training of the eye creates these chances. The title expresses the feeling that these candid moments are frozen, showcasing the human condition. ‘Tableaux vivants’ literarily means, ‘living pictures’. The photographic tableau had its roots in pictorialism. Pictorialism tried to imitate painting but lacked the spontaneous fleeting aspect of the photographic image.

Artist statement

Creating images with complex compositions, multiple elements or layers really excite my visual senses. To be absorbed in the middle of street life fulfills me with energy. Occasionally I become ‘in flow’, dissolving into a scene, like I become part of it without being visible. During these times, my photographic expression makes me feel alive.

Content and Form explained

Besides the important photographic concept of ‘visualization’ (judging how a subject would look in a photographic print), creating these tableaux requires a developed sense of ‘anticipation’. Ansel Adems described this concept remarkably well in his book ‘the camera’; ‘The flow of life, the rapidly changing relationships of objects and realities, seem to come into an embrace with the photographers eye and imagination. This view of the world is far more fluent than is possible with a view camera. Yet it is this very fluency that is the greatest challenge of small format photography, for the photographer is called upon to assess the moving elements of a scene and integrate them into an effective still photograph in fractions of a second.” 

One of the ‘early’ 35mm photographers, photojournalist Henri Cartier Bresson set a new standard by combining his developed sense for anticipation with a rigorous visual organization of form. This new way of thinking was translated in the 1952 book ‘Images à la Sauvette’ (‘The Decisive Moment’); ‘To me photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give the event its proper expression’. It was a persuasive concept to express that a photograph becomes meaningful in a single moment when everything comes together just right.

© 2010 Edward van Herk – All rights reserved