Luo Yongjin


Luo Yongjin was born in 1960 in Beijing. He has graduated from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou and the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts in Guangzhou, China. He currently lives in Shanghai.

Luo Yonglin has a long-standing interest in architectural forms. The built environment is a metaphor for change in China as whole cities are re-made to reflect the exponentially growing market economy. Where people live is driven largely by economic choices and is mirrored in the type of housing.

Architecture as a manifestation of a particular time and place can be seen in Luo Yongjin’s “Fort Houses”. These tall strange structures are an interesting fusion of Chinese and Western structural and decorative motifs and become the subject of Luo Yongjin’s black and white photography.

The forts are reminiscent of contemporary tower blocks, although their appearance is very deceptive. They were designed mainly as defensive dwellings, similar in purpose to European medieval towers, and first built in late Ming Dynasty, around 1600. The buildings are known as ‘diaolou’ or ‘watchtowers’ and were designed as multi-storied defensive structures. In the 1920s there was extensive development of the fort houses by Chinese living overseas as they needed a safe refuge for their belongings from bandits.  They reflect the taste of a group of people with a different experience of life and are monuments to the struggle to survive of many overseas Chinese. Many of these buildings were abandoned during the Cultural Revolution, as the overseas Chinese could not return for fear of punishment by the Communist government.

The abandoned buildings are devoid of people in the photographs. The austere black and white, high contrast images are strangely surreal. Luo Yongjin has documented these buildings with stark simplicity to show a different way of life.

“Fort Houses 1, 10, 4 12”, 2005, 100 × 100 cm, Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper

The photographs of the “Fort Houses” are compared visually to China’s contemporary ‘McMansions’ in Luo Yongjin’s “New Residence – Hangzhou” series and the poor residential tenement blocks of “New Residence – Luoyang”.   

Luo Yongjin lived in Luoyang for over 20 years and understands well the reasons for this particular style of building that he portrays in “New residence – Luoyang”. The structures were built in the mid 80s when China, post-Cultural Revolution, went through a building boom initiated by private citizens. For the first time people were allowed to build their own houses. The crude architectural style is utilitarian and without decoration, built very cheaply with basic materials such as brick. The design of the building meant that any open areas faced inwards to allow privacy and this results in the stark almost bleak exteriors which are seen in the graphic black and white photographs. Luo Yongjin makes a visual metaphor of this turbulent era of social change. His photographs are a reflection of adversity and austerity.

“New Residence - Luoyang 02, 03, 23, 49”, 1997, 100 × 120 cm, Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper

Since 2002, Luo Yongjin has turned his attention to the private houses of China’s nouveau riche citizens of Hangzhou. The “New Residences – Hangzhou”, were built by the wealthy with their own aesthetic tastes and form a striking counterpoint to those in Luoyang.  In contrast with the crude nature of the buildings of Luoyang, the Hangzhou residences strive towards refinement and delicacy, however an insatiable desire to flaunt wealth permeates the architecture. These buildings appear to be pieced together, betraying a pastiche of influences and the absence of a unified original style. Unfortunately, the new residences provide evidence of an eclectic taste, which dictates the aesthetic sensibilities of China's private residences. There is ugliness in the design of these buildings, which is being manifest in housing estates all over the world. Luo Yongjin photographs with some detachment. The black and white of the photographs is a contradiction to the intended ostentatiousness of the buildings.

Luo Yongjin requires the audience to consider that architecture is more than an aspect of the design of the built environment but a reflection of the social structures and community consciousness of the time.


New Residence - Hangzhou 27”, 2003, 100 × 120 cm, Inkjet print on Fine Art Paper


“New Residence – Hangzhou 29”, 2003, 100 × 120 cm, Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper

Luo continues his architectural theme with his photographs of Government buildings. The government built impressive administrative buildings all over China through the 90s, even in the poorer areas. This was to demonstrate the power of the Communist state. Luo Yongjin photographs the facade of each building squarely to avoid distortion of the architectural form. Through his simple documentation of these buildings he highlights the innate absurdity of the overly elaborate and grotesque pieces of architecture that are symbols of power, pride and arrogance. There is a crude attempt to imitate the classical styles of Western architecture in many of these buildings. Luo Yongjin photographs the exterior of the building but he is revealing more than just the surfaces and forms. He invites his audience to contemplate the reasons and motivations of the buildings’ owners and designers.

“Government - (Minghang, Shanghai), (Luolong, Luoyang), Pingdingshan, Zhengzhou”, 2005-2006,100 x 100 cm, Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper

In his work on Chinese gardens, cityscapes and towers, Luo Jongjin adopts a different approach. He uses multiple segments to create a collage of the scene enabling him to build a complex image and to have flexibility in the selection of detail. He also uses areas of selective focus. A telephoto lens photographs a particular section of the image, adjusting the focus and depth-of-field, in order to make the image sharp or soft. There is also movement and blur in some of the images and this creates visual interest through ambiguity. The softness is part of the visual effect of the lens and is important in the construction of the work.

“Chinese Garden – Rockery”, 2000, variable sizes, Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper

“Chinese Garden – Nanping Windows”, 2000, variable sizes, Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper

Luo Jongjin takes this collage technique further in the work titled, “Oriental Plaza”. He photographs in many sections to create an extensive 360-degree view of the re-development of this site, but also over time with different seasons and stages of construction. This results in a work that enables the viewer to gain an understanding of the complex changes to the site from the demolition to the completed plaza. The Oriental Plaza used to be the original shopping area of Shanghai but was demolished by the wealthy owner. Through the assemblage of these fragments, Luo Yongjin has constructed a metaphor for the uncontrolled expansion of urban development in contemporary China. He makes a powerful visual statement in a single work that shows these changes over time. The clarity of his statement is undeniable.

He uses the same technique in the work “Lotus Block” which describes the re-development of residential areas with rows of apartment blocks.

“Chinese City Scape - Lotus Block, Beijing”, 1998-2002 ”, variable sizes, Inkjet print on Fine Art Paper

Luo Jongjin has an extensive body of work on other themes. He works mainly with black and white film-based cameras. In more recent work he uses a digital camera to make time-exposure photographs of the city at night.

For more images -

All images courtesy of Ofoto Gallery, Shanghai