Liu Zheng was born in 1969 in the Hebei Province, China. His signature graytone photographs have for years starkly framed, in political and provocative situations, his human subjects. When he works in colour, the tones are awash in sepia or a doctored saturation that comments on the nostalgic nature of his topics – his Peking Opera series in particular reflects this.
Liu’s background is not rooted in arts . After majoring in optical engineering at the Beijing Institute of Technology, he joined a local paper as a photojournalist, where he covered the coal mining industry. This laid the foundation for his interest in the lives of the countrymen that toil endlessly; one of his first series as an artistic practitioner explored the lives of ethnic minorities and our perception of them. He continues to eke out of the histories and stories of his subjects and topics in photography, and has published several volumes of his series.
(Source: Eli Klein Gallery)
Zheng's photos of China during the political and economic upheavals of the last decade are a combination of the over- familiar and the strange. Stylistically, they suggest an amalgam of August Sander, Diane Arbus, and Nan Goldin: Flash-lit, centered subjects and black-and-white prints; alluring yet uncomfortable intimacy; typologies of occupations and phyla of "freaks." But while Zheng's style is derivative, the world he uncovers is rich and varied. From the gruesome Waxwork in the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum, 2000, to Actors in a Film about the War Against the Japanese, 2000, to the hulking figure of A Poetess, Beijing, 1998, Zheng is both artist and documentarian. Perhaps the most apt comparison of all is to Robert Frank, who, like Zheng, set out to capture the complexities of a vast and heterogeneous nation.