China's "Purest Photographer" (2)

The most stunning and touching of Lu Nan’s three bodies of work is the “The Forgotten People: The State of Chinese Psychiatric Wards” series, which was produced in the early 90s. Lu said that in taking this series of pictures, he was completing a journey that he saw as unfinished by other local and international photographers. Lu said: “Once I saw a Spanish photographer’s collection of work on the life of psychiatric patients. She did a very good job, but there was still room for improvement and I thought: ‘Leave it to me.’ Of course, that was only one of the many reasons why I chose this theme. What finally made me commit to it full scale was that after photographing the first hospital, I was greatly unsettled by the living conditions of the patients.”

In order to take those pictures, Lu had to spend a couple of years making frequent visits to China’s 38 psychiatric hospitals and getting in touch with over ten thousand patients, to such an extent that he sometimes thought he himself was a psychiatric patient too. “It was very difficult to take photos of these patients,” Lu said. “At the beginning I simply couldn’t communicate with them. Either they did not speak at all, or they just keep talking on and on. Sometimes I nearly fell into a nervous breakdown. Even my eyes couldn’t on them.”

In so realistically documenting the shocking state of living of those patients with his lenses, Lu also managed to raise the awareness of the Chinese society towards this marginalised group of rural psychiatric patients. But it was also beauty and not just realism that Lu was after. “If realism and beauty cannot co-exist, I would rather give up,” Lu said. “There were so many scenes in the psychiatric hospitals that were very real, so real that they were shocking, but as they were not beautiful, I did not take a single shot.”

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