Lynn Trafton talks with Wu Dahzen.
When Wu Dahzen arrived in Houston, among his belongings were a clarinet and boxes of his photographs of China. Here from China by way of a music scholarship from Arizona University in Tucson, Dahzen is studying for a Performance Master degree at Rice University. His photographs were the subject of an HCP exhibit in September.
“I have been studying music for many years as a profession, and have played with the Peking Ballet Symphony for eight years. My photography though, started as a hobby during the cultural revolution in China," he says.
As a student Dahzen was inspired by pictures of Chinese landscapes and wanted to capture his own vision of that country. "About that time, I met a professional, Chen Chu Chan, who urged me to buy a $3 developing tank, borrow an old camera from friends and get started on my own landscapes. I taught myself how to develop and print in a darkroom at the Music Conservatory," he recalls. "This happened when all the schools were closed so that the students could take part in the cultural revolution. I decided to take pictures instead. So, I traveled all over China with my camera.
"In those days you could not have two jobs," he says, "but times have changed. Now I can go home and work in both music and photography. My music used to support my hobby, but now photography is helping to support my music." Wu is supplementing his income here by photographing a catalog for a local jewelry company. Besides the HCP exhibit he has also shown at Munchies Cafe, where he blended his talents by playing Chinese folk songs at his opening.
His soft pastel landscapes are places to dream of, where Chinese folk tales could come to life. Mountains stand amid fog and rain taunting the viewer's belief in reality. His black and white images of people show the movement of everyday life in the rising dust of crowds, the press of ticket buyers, the group of waiting room occupants and the marketplace in full swing. Individual studies show quieter moments in a crowded, busy country so different from our own.
"From China to the United States is a long way in miles and in culture," he observes. I still feel that everything in the United States goes too fast," says Dahzen, "and it has been hard to get used to. There seems to be no time to reflect and to think. Suddenly, I had to be very independent. It was a hard thing to do," he says. While Dahzen takes his opportunity to study abroad, his wife remains in China as a ballerina with the Peking Ballet Company. She may visit here soon. In the meantime I am learning to use some of both cultures." he says. "I am beginning to update my camera collection. Since I like street photography, I carry my cameras everywhere. When I go back to China, 1 will have images of the United States to share with my countrymen."