Cristina de Middel’s Party: Quotations From Chairman Mao Tse-tung is a heavily redacted version of the Little Red Book, illustrated by photographs of contemporary China.

In the artist’s hands, the icon of 1960s China becomes a narrative for modern times.

Cristina de Middel is a documentary photographer and artist living and working in London. She self-published The Afronauts in 2012, a photo book about the short-lived Zambian space program.

In 2013, de Middel received the Infinity Award from the International Center for Photography.

All images used with permission, courtesy and copyright © the artist, all rights reserved.

The Morning News:

Where did these photographs come from? How did the book begin?

Cristina De Middel:

The photographs were taken during two trips I did to China. The first one was in 2011, right after I quit my job at a newspaper in Spain and while doing The Afronauts. I needed to re-enjoy photography and just shoot around with no particular story behind it, just for the pleasure of it.

I was there for a couple of months reacting to the weirdness of the country with the camera. After that trip, and after publishing The Afronauts, I wanted to turn these images into a book but had no real structure in mind, so I decided to take the structure from the most important Chinese book—I started reading it again and adapting it to what I needed to say. I decided to use censorship—as something typically Chinese—for the text, and the result was a series of pages that could work as special captions for the images I inserted afterward. After that was done I returned to China last summer and shot the images I was missing to complete the book.


What guided you in redacting Mao Tse-Tung’s text?


I was just looking for concepts and ideas that could be hidden in the text. I normally identified a strong word that could have multiple meanings, like “party,” and played with it, building a sentence that could make sense. It was like doing a crossword puzzle with a lot of humor.


Do you read much poetry?


Not at all! I hate poetry! At least classical poetry. I like prose and any use of the language that’s playful. Poetry seems too solemn for me, and I don’t like the emotional message that poetry’s about, most of the time. I like talking and reading about simple things described in a simple and playful way, and that’s what I try to do with my books, using photographs instead of words. If there is any reference to poetry in my version of the Little Red Book, it’s making fun of it.


Do news stories inspire you? For example, the kidnapped young women in Nigeria. Are you ever tempted to go back to journalism?


Newspapers and news in general are definitely a source of inspiration. I like approaching contemporary issues, but not in a classical way. But not the main, “hot” stories like the one you mentioned. It’s hard for me to have an opinion and build a version of it when I still don´t know the end of the story. I also think some subjects are quite sensitive and I’d rather wait some time in order to bring a more “digested” version of it.

I don’t feel tempted to go back to the journalism business. I really think I can raise more awareness on the subjects that I think are relevant from the position I’m in now. What I got disappointed with was not the role of the journalist, which I think is extremely necessary, but about the platform that is used to share these stories and the way people consume that kind of “product.” I still work with some publications if they allow me to work my own way, edit the images I think are relevant and approach the subject from my own angle.


When does making art make you want to give up?


Making art never made me want to give up. Maybe the opposite. It’s a way of expressing myself that prevents me from wanting to give up in a society like the one we live in. It’s more like a therapy that I’d have to do even if my main occupation was not the one I have now, which is making art.


What is your favorite type of adventure?


The one that’s not planned. Taking a car, driving with no destination, and letting just luck and curiosity guide you. Especially the one that you don’t know when it will be over.


Rosecrans Baldwin co-founded TMN with publisher Andrew Womack in 1999. His latest book is Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles. More information can be found at More by Rosecrans Baldwin