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A famous Chinese saying goes, “People have sorrow and happiness; they part and meet again. The moon dims or shines; it waxes or wanes.” Chinese people always associate a full moon with a happy life. This meaning can be found within a traditional Chinese garden architectural element called the “moon gate.” This characteristic moon-like door not only indicates a good wish for joy and happiness, but is also regarded as a typical symbol of Chinese culture. However, for photographer San Bartolome, the moon gate means nothing about a traditional good wish for happiness but rather is a gateway leading him to dive deep into modern China.
Awarded with the Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, an honor given in recognition of significant contributions in arts, literature, or the propagation of these fields by the French government, San Bartolome is a very productive and accomplished French artist. For him, China has played a significant role along his career path. In the fall of 2003, he joined the French Embassy in Beijing as a cultural attache, a middleman between the French and Chinese commissioners for the artistic events of the Year of China in France. In 2006, he organized “Sino-French Cultural Exchange Spring” for the embassy. He programmed and managed the first three sessions until the conclusion of the 2008 Olympic Games, and organized meetings between outstanding French and Chinese artists in some 20 cities all over China and Asia.
Besides his restless event planning, San Bartolome is renowned for his accomplishments in photography. In September 2009, he was awarded Best Foreign Photographer along with two other foreign photographers at the 10th Pingyao International Photography Festival.
While working in China, San Bartolome takes every opportunity to visit different places and conducts broad communication with all kinds of Chinese people on his tours. Though he can barely speak the language, his interest in Chinese people never fades. “Being an artist, I can easily figure out people’s reaction to my work. They like it if the work is impressive enough. Otherwise, there must be somewhat of a lack of truth or emotion. To understand this, we don’t need to say a word,” reveals Bartolome.
At Beijing’s 798 Art Zone, Bartolome’s personal photo exhibition titled “Moon Door Dreamers” was presented around the end of 2011. The exhibition depicted a series of photographs using the moon gate as a pictorial backdrop or frame. San Bartolome invited us through his memories as he spoke about this exhibition. The time was April 2008, when people living in Beijing were busy preparing for the upcoming Olympic Games. Bartolome got caught in a traffic jam in suburban Beijing. “It was a long wait, so I was able to spot several circular openings on the long and grey walls on both sides of the road. In my opinion, they were examples of the so-called moon gate,” Bartolome reminisced. “Since I didn’t get a chance to examine them in detail that day, I decided to return to this somehow attractive place for a closer inspection. At dusk, I happened to meet many local residents standing at their own doorways and learned many stories about the moon gates. Instead of being used as a decoration for gardens or mansions in the traditional Chinese way, the circular opening on the wall in front of my eyes actually served as a passageway to a world of humble, yet interesting mom-and-pop shops. According to local residents, the wall was built to hide them from street view both for their safety and to keep the city tidy. However, no one was sure the suburban area called 'Shibalidian’ could attract any visitor other than me,” Bartolome recalled.