The first issue of Go East Interview will introduce you the youngest Chinese gallery owner and collector Lu Xiao (b. 1985) from Timeless Gallery.
Go East: When did you first start doing photography? Which part of photographic art attracts you the most?
Lu Xiao: I first began doing photography on account of a few reasons. Firstly I was definitely influenced by my Dad whose greatest hobby was taking pictures. Just like most boys, I was pretty interested into mechanical stuff and I did spend a lot of time playing outdoors and gradually the idea of taking pictures came up. I started taking pictures outdoors from then. I think this is what most photographers have to go through. First you take pictures and then you sort of appreciate them, later on you start to talk about the equipments you use for photo taking. Then you focus on the skills and eventually you come back to appreciating the pictures and talking about art. For me, that is the right way to follow and that is how photography has been developed.
Secondly I was very interested in cameras and I had done some research on all kinds of dark rooms, crafts, that kind of stuff. But what really touched me was after I started buying artistic books. I bought many artistic books of western photography masters’ works and I thought they were indeed remarkable and way beyond my level. By chance, I got to see the original prints and I was completely spoiled. No more artistic books could satisfy me. That’s how I started looking for original works and collecting them. Slowly I have realized that it is not easy to be an artist. To be one you need to work extra hard. Another important thing is that you have to be smart and you need to do apprenticeship kind of thing. Sometimes people assume that doing photography is easy. Given a camera, especially auto camera, anyone can take a picture and go on and on about it. In fact, some day you will realize that it is not easy. That’s how I stopped taking pictures and started becoming an appreciator instead. That’s what I am like now. I only take pictures when I am traveling.
Go East: Now let’s look back to 2009 when you started running Timeless Gallery. Please describe to us what was the contemporary photography environment in China like at that time.
Lu Xiao: When I first started talking to my mother about my idea of running a gallery, she did not really think it was a good idea because none of our family members had run any business before throughout the generations. For them, opening an off-license store or a restaurant would probably make more sense than running a gallery. After all that kind of discussions and arguments, they finally agreed to let me have a go. I just thought that photographic gallery was perhaps in demand and in the end we all agreed to try dealing with international top photographers’ works. After we made the decision we had been trying really hard to achieve my dream.
At that time I did not have any experience in business at all, not to mention running a gallery. Thanks to my good friends who were always there for me. And to learn more experience, I went to Japan and learnt a lot from other galleries. A big thanks to the manager who was running at that time at the very oldest photographic gallery in Tokyo. He told me that if I was really determined to run a gallery, I should make it last otherwise it would be very irresponsible for both the artists and the collectors. That’s how I started this business after all aspects of considerations. I wanted it to last and to be stable other than to expect any development straight away. Then I started to choose the artists and works. I was learning the whole time.
Go East: As a unique Chinese photographic gallery that collects and sells western original photographic works, how did you set your orientation? What do you think is the meaning of collecting original works in contemporary China?
Lu Xiao: The reason why we decided to stick to original works was partly because China was lacking them. There are a lot of people who own really good cameras but I think they really need to use original works to build their appreciation of the beauty. Another thing, I needed to find or let’s say to create the first group of photographic collectors to help me with the money to keep on running the gallery.
There is always a risk whether the collectors could trust me or rely on me, but choosing original works from famous photographers could lower the risk. Every piece of work we sell, I know they will only worth more as time goes. I have been taking great care of my first customer. He trusts me from day one and now we are getting along really well like really good friends and he does trust us loads. For example, this exhibition, he just asked me to choose the pieces for him without even having a look himself. I will never disappoint him. And how will I guarantee my customers? The history of photography is the key. That is why we chose to do the business of original photographic works. Above all, whatever we exhibit and sell are the works that I would collect myself and that might explain why we do not worry about the risk of running a gallery while not having much experience in business.
Go East: Can you tell us about your recent work focus, including your co-operating with publishers or art galleries?
Lu Xiao: I know there are many galleries who publish their picture books quite often. In fact, it is our first book with the help of a publisher. We do not sell the book or have any commissions. We just wanted to make it in a rarely good quality and affordable price for more and more people. They take overseas orders as well. About art galleries or exhibitions, we are still thinking about it. It needs time and opportunities. There is nothing we can do about the fact that the level of photography in China is really low comparatively speaking. However, we are working on it. From picture books to exhibitions, we are trying to let the world know about what we are doing, can be anywhere, Europe or the USA, we will impress them. Unfortunately In China, nobody cares and that is what I am going to change little by little with my hard work.
Go East: Please tell us what you can see yourself doing in 3 or 5 years time.
Lu Xiao: First of all, I don’t think we will change our plan in 3 or 5 years. We are still very unique and I think getting to know about photography history is very important for Chinese photography because it needs to know what it was like before. When it comes to contemporary photographers, including young artists, many galleries are trying to push them out there and make them more famous and have a place in the world. All of that is a good thing. But what we are doing is the basic and what lies inside. We are trying to make up to what we lacked decades ago. Only when we know about our history, we can find out where the future leads. Another fun thing being an artist is that you will eventually realize that every artist has somehow influenced one another throughout the photography history. I think there will be more and more collectors in the near future, but I will let the number increase and develop slowly, then I will bring more and more top photographers’ works to everyone and keep them in China. (The End)