Sculpture-like, dramatized, performing consciously or unconsciously, captured in fresh daylight or under an illuminated spotlight, always somewhat eccentric—these are characteristic and inimitable features of Chinese photographer Wang Yishu’s work. He captures the familiar yet absurd within ordinary scenes, stripping a part from the whole in the process of selecting and tailoring reality to expose and amplify the commonplace. Using this tactic of emphasizing some things and ignoring others, Yishu defamiliarizes the rational world. His photographs suspend the flow of life at moments where people and things are at their most exaggerated, awkward, or in-between state—offering allegories of existence.

Yishu once worked as one of the top photojournalists in Chinese media. This allowed him to travel across China, from metropolitan cities to remote villages, capturing images along the way. While the media’s focus was on pursuing clear stories with affecting narratives and striking effects, Yishu’s interest lay in exploring ordinary situations and how they conveyed the complexities of human existence. Fleeting moments are stilled in Yishu’s photographs; they do not show clear intention or meaning, but they are evanescent, exquisite, and, as the artist describes, “solid as a standing steel plate.” In his photographs, Yishu makes a thing become “the thing,” or another thing. His photographs depict his subjects with ambiguous purpose that reflects the intricacies of both their exterior and interior worlds.

Situated in a location where people are continually shuttled across the city, these photographs hold a particular resonance. From Osgoode subway station, people may go to work, conduct business or errands, visit galleries, meet friends, or just spend idle time in one of the city’s most vibrant and culturally colourful areas. The subway carries them in an enclosed, in-between space from here to there. Travellers are with each other, but isolated from one another and lost in their own thoughts—strangers close together for a brief window of time. Yishu’s photographs offer a space of self-reflection and a moment of pause amid this constant movement of bodies.

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Curated by Yan Zhou