Li Zhensheng: the Genius who photographed the Winds and Clouds of the Cultural Revolution
We can say that Li Zhensheng has “photographed the Cultural Revolution”, as if a revolution that has lasted 10 years was photographable by one single man. But “photograph” Li did indeed.
A graduate of the Changchun Film Institute, Li Zhensheng started photographing the prelude of the Cultural Revolution, as soon as he entered the Heilongjiang Daily as a photo-reporter, in covering the 1964 Movement for Socialist Education in the countryside. In 1980 his pictures of the execution of a woman, ex-Red Guard turned corrupted party official, would become the epilogue of his body of work on the Cultural Revolution. In between, Li Zhensheng did photograph the eruption of violence, the mobilization of mass hysteria and its folly, the teenage rebellion against fatherly archetypes, the personal tragedy and the unintentional comical – at times bordering on the farcical – terror. He photographed the dreamlike beauty (the winds) and the horror of a nightmare (the clouds). He portrayed himself as the urbane and mundane city newspaper leading photographer, while sharing with us the sweat and tear of a harsh banishment to the countryside, revealing the grandeur and the pettiness of people immersed in the illusion of revolution. In one word he did photograph the “loss of mind” of a whole nation.