Photo Finish in Beijing: Caochangdi PhotoSpring

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Rong Rong and Inri / Three Shadows Photography Art Centre / Photospring

Prints charming Self-portraits by Rong Rong and Inri are on show at PhotoSpring

Beijing's 798 art district gets a lot of tourists and attention, and to the Chinese capital's cognoscenti that's precisely the problem. Viewing 798 as less of a hip artist hideaway and more of a ménage of cafés and trinket shops these days, Beijing's boho set is instead seeking refuge in Caochangdi, an art quarter located in the city's northeast. Among its spacious galleries are former 798 stalwarts like White Space and Platform China. Shanghai powerhouse ShanghArt has also opened its Beijing branch there. "This is one of the best holdouts for art left in Beijing," says Matthew Niederhauser, whose images of rock musicians have been collected in Sound Kapital: Beijing's Music Underground and who is one of over 200 photographers appearing in the inaugural Caochangdi PhotoSpring,

Organized by France's Les Rencontres d'Arles photo festival in partnership with Beijing-based art curators and consultants Thinking Hands and the enormous local photographic gallery Three Shadows, Caochangdi PhotoSpring's packed calendar of photographic exhibitions, lectures and documentary screenings runs through June. Besides key Chinese exhibits (Yu Haibo's "20 Years of Shenzhen in the Eyes of a Photographer," Mo Yi's multimedia "My Illusory City — 1987, 1998, 2008"), displays include intimate views of Picasso by Lucien Clergue, spanning a 20-year friendship.

Adding an undertone of urgency to the event is the fact that redevelopment notices have been served on parts of Caochangdi, with some of the galleries participating in PhotoSpring slated for demolition. Three Shadows co-founder, photographer Rong Rong, believes that the authorities intend to level the district in order to create a tidier cultural precinct. "That's another reason this festival is so important," says Rose Jang Wei of local gallery Art Channel, "to make everyone aware of what is here, and how special it is."

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