Shi Guorui


Shi Guorui was born in 1964 in Shanxi Province of China. In 1992, he graduated from the Photography Department of Nanjing Normal University. He currently lives in Beijing.

“Great Wall”, 2002, 126 x 330 cm, Unique Camera Obscura Silver Gelatin Print

“Bird’s Nest Stadium 12 February, 2008”, 2008, 135 x 355 cm, Unique Camera Obscura Silver Gelatin Print

Shi Guorui constructs a giant  ‘camera obscura’ in order to make his large-scale unique negative photographs. A ‘camera obscura’ is basically a light safe box that has an aperture (pinhole or lens) that allows an inverted projection to appear within the darkened space on the wall opposite to the aperture.

As a ray of light passes through the pinhole and diffracts into a darkened space, the image of the outside scenery is projected upside down onto the opposite wall.  The Chinese philosopher Mozi (470 - 390 BC) referred to this device as a "collecting plate" or "locked treasure room” and was first to record the discovery of this property of light. Pinhole cameras are based on the same principle. Shi Guorui began using homemade pinhole cameras in 1996.

In 2002, Shi Guorui began to construct giant ‘camera obscura’ chambers that could be used to make large negative prints on photographic paper. The un-exposed photographic paper was secured to the opposite wall to the aperture (pinhole of lens) and an exposure was made as the projected image of the outside world is exposed on the photographic paper. The exposed paper was then processed in photographic chemicals to reveal the negative print (the brighter areas are rendered darker). In a world that is so reliant on digital media, Shi Guorui challenges his audience with these large scale works that use the fundamentals of photography – the latent image brought to life through light sensitive materials using the most basic of cameras.

His first major project using a giant site-specific camera obscura was the Great Wall. The Great Wall watchtower was converted into his darkroom in order to shoot the countryside surrounding the Great Wall.  Shi Guorui remains inside the camera obscura’s dark chamber throughout the photographic process, alone with the inverted image of the scenery outside.  The result is a unique panoramic image up to four metres in length. The exposure time for most works can be multiple hours and it is an opportunity for Shi Guorui to find peace through meditation while he waits.

Shi Guorui photographs some of China’s most iconic sites.

He writes:

“All the locations I photograph have one feature in common, a rich role in the lives of humans. There are printed thoughts, notions, feelings, and memories left behind in history by humans while exploring and changing the world. Time flies and things change. All the way through history natural scenery and constructions remain (barring earthquakes!) while relevant people disappear. Living in the present, how can we recapture and reproduce historical thoughts, opinions, feelings or memories by means of photography? And what new experiences and feelings can we come up with during the process of recapture and reproduction?”

The long exposures result in the absence of anything transient in the scene. Clouds and ripples on the water disappear as do any human being. Rendered backwards and in the negative, the panoramas bear an eerie and surreal aura. The photographs have wonderful depth-of-field and the detail and sharpness of the image is extraordinary.

In the choice of locations Shi Guorui tempts his audience to reconsider other aspects. The Great Wall is the spiritual symbol for China, however it was a futile attempt to keep foreigners out and made at great human cost. The Shanghai photograph shows the old colonial architecture of the Bund facing the new skyscrapers of Pudong. Is the rapid development of Chinese cities for the benefit of all?

When making the photograph of Shanghai, Shi Guorui used a hotel conference room as the camera. Photographs of Hong Kong and Kowloon were made from a private home on Hong Kong Island. Like Shanghai, the eight-hour exposure time renders this bustling city an empty shell of itself and starkly exposes Hong Kong's architectural beauty. 

“Hong Kong”, 2006, Unique Camera Obscura Silver Gelatin Print, 300 x 129 cm

“Shanghai, 8 September 2008”, 2008, 182 x 320 cm, Unique Camera Obscura Silver Gelatin Print

“New CCTV”, 2007, 133 x 244 cm

Unique Camera Obscura Silver Gelatin Print

Shi Guorui photographed the now infamous CCTV Building in Beijing, during its construction in 2007. The building, a symbol of the modernisation of Beijing, was partially destroyed by fire in 2009 and is currently being re-built. The view is void of traffic and people and is an empty shell in its partially constructed state. In some ways it symbolises the contradictions of China today, the fastest rate of urban development in the world at the greatest cost to its people.

This artist, Abelardo Morell, makes camera obscura photographs in interior spaces, using a darkened room as the camera with an aperture in a wall to allow the image to enter. He then photographs the projected image.