i-D | feng li captures the dark absurdity of chinese street life

Sarah Moroz, i-D, 9 Jul 2018

"Feng Li has been fueling his ongoing series “White Night” with idiosyncratic images since 2005. Born 1971 in Chengdu, Li initially studied Chinese medicine before practicing photography as a civil servant for the provincial Department of Communication and, in tandem, as an independent artist. He constantly toggles between personal work and official imagery, the former being completely antithetical to the propaganda of the latter. 


Snapping pictures daily in the streets of Chengdu — capital of the Sichuan province and one of the most populous cities in Western China — chance encounters provide him with a constant source of material. His vision is characterized by surprising juxtapositions, tongue-in-cheek humor, bright textures and colors, all yielding a sense of the absurdity and even the uncanny within the urban landscape. The quotidian is examined under a bright flash, populated by inscrutable yet compelling characters: a figure in a silly bunny costume who, upon closer inspection, has an amputated left leg; a man casually lighting a cigarette despite an alarming amount of blood on his hand. The humorous and the sinister share a single frame: an uneasy, startling balance of violence and satire without any context.


Ll currently has a solo exhibition at the Rencontres d’Arles photography festival in the south of France, having won the Jimei x Arles Discovery Award in 2017 amongst a shortlist of ten emerging Chinese photographers selected by young curators. Li also has a carte blanche in Arles, taking photos of scenes from around the city, which will be updated regularly as a complementary in situ exhibition.


With the help of curators and ad-hoc translators Thomas Sauvin and Leo de Boisgisson, Feng Li discussed embracing the weird and mistrusting the notion of photographic truth."