Alan Chin: Another Home 8,000 Miles Away

Alan Chin is currently running a Kickstarter campaign for his new project Toishan, China: Another Home 8,000 Miles Away. Chin’s project will take him back to his family’s home in the Toishan region of China, an area that is undergoing rapid development since his first visit in 1989. The fundraising campaign will run until October 28th but we are happy to report that Chin has already exceeded his initial goal. Congratulations to him, but the project is still worthy of support and we hope that with further fundraising he will have more time and flexibility with the project, something every photographer would dream of.

Chin answered a few of our questions about the new work, and I also encourage you to have a look at Chin’s Kickstarter video below and his fundraising page for more information about his plans for this project.

Tell me something about the region of China that your family comes from? How many times have you visited the area?

Toishan (or Taishan in official Mandarin Pinyin romanization), is about a hundred miles from Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Two-thirds of all Overseas Chinese immigrants to the United States came from the greater Toishan area, until the 1960s. Today, Chinese-Americans hail from diverse regions in China, especially from Fujian, but for a hundred years that was Toishan.

I first visited in 1989, when I was eighteen years old. I was there again in 1997 and then many times in 2008 and 2009.

Do you still have family in Toishan that you are in contact with?

My last close relative was a great-aunt who died in 2009 after I saw her for the last time in 2008; I still have more distant cousins that live in the village.

What is the relationship between this area and Chinese-American communities, particularly in New York? Is immigration from this region still prominent?

Starting in 1965 with LBJ’s immigration reform to reunify families (as important a piece of landmark legislation as Medicare or the Civil Rights laws), the Chinese-American community expanded tremendously. And as the Cold War ended, commercial and diplomatic relations improved between China and the US. Individuals began to travel to-and-fro with much greater ease and frequency. Toishanese continue to emigrate abroad, but now are one of many Chinese clusters rather than the majority. The old part of New York’s Chinatown in Manhattan, dating from the late 19th century, was originally Toishanese and remains predominantly Cantonese. (Toishan is part of Guangdong, the Cantonese province.)

Are you going to be documenting Toishanese communities from both countries with your book?

Yes, but the emphasis is on China, on where we come from.

How do you plan to use your family’s photographs in this project? What are some of your favorite photographs in this collection that will help tell the story?

I will use some of my family photographs to track our specific history, which is typical of so many families. The oldest photograph we have is of my great-uncle, Sing Chin, who emigrated to Cuba in 1927 and then the US in 1935. The photo is a formal studio portrait from his time in Cuba. It shows him in a tropical suit, and he was younger then than I am now. I think it will help show just how transformative the 20th century was in its global impact of revolutionary change.

My favorite photographs? That’s too hard a question to answer!


Click image above to start Chin’s video about the project

New Projects Worth Supporting

In recent weeks a few interesting and worthy fundraising campaigns have come across our radar that I wanted to share.




Grozny – Nine Cities is an ongoing project by Russian photographers Olga Kravets, Maria Morina and Oksana Yushko.

Grozny, the capital of war-torn Chechnya, is a melting pot for changing Caucasus society that is trying to overcome a trauma of two recent wars and find its own way of life in between traditional Chechen values, Muslim traditions, and globalization. Our project is inspired by Thornton Wilder’s book Theophilus North. It centers on the idea of nine cities being hidden in one. We applied this concept to Grozny as nine “levels of existence” hidden within the city.

More information can be found on their website, Grozny: Nine Cities.
Notable rewards for help in supporting the project: Postcards and signed prints. As of publishing there are 39 days left to sponsor the project via Emphas.is.

Newsmotion is a new concept of journalistic website put together by a very talented team of independent writers, journalists and producers, including Julian Rubinstein, Todd Gitlin and their photo editor Alan Chin, in partnership with the People’s Production House. A pre-launch of the site is now online at Newsmotion.org and includes a preview of a story I worked on with Gitlin and Serbian activist Srdja Popovic about Non-Violent Resistance while both were in Belgrade last May. Visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Newsmotion is an innovative platform for civic media, public art, and original documentary reportage. We are harnessing the power of independent voices, technology, and collaborative storytelling to help the critical issues of our time engage new audiences and find new solutions

Recent events—including the uprisings in the Middle East and the Occupy movement—have shown that individuals and communities with access to technology are able to get their voices heard. A collective vision for the future of civic media is already being realized in revolutionary ways—Newsmotion is our contribution to this movement.

Notable rewards: Books written by contributors, limited editions of “The Occupied Wall Street Journal” and the Yes Men’s special edition of The New York Times, an invitation to the famous Winter Gumbo party on December 27 in New York City (be sure to check the details and offers on this, it has been a hit in the past). Deadline: there are only 10 days to go, finishing on December 29, 2011.

FOLK is a new documentary film by Sara Terry about “singer-songwriters who are working just under the radar of mainstream American music, their lives playing out in a vibrant sub-culture that few people know about.” Visit the Kickstarter campaign.

Part music documentary and part road trip movie, FOLK lets our characters’ lives and their songs do what singer-songwriters have always done: amplify the themes that resonate across our cultural landscape – whether it’s re-defining success in the face of failure, trying to find wholeness in an increasingly fragmented world, or struggling to make sense of the trials and triumphs that make us all so human.

Notable rewards: Special edition DVDs, downloads and CDs from the project, limited edition prints and posters or even songs written about or for you by the musicians in the documentary. There are 15 days left, ending on January 3, 2012.

UPDATE (1/2/12): We’ve very happy to be able to say congratulations to the team behind Newsmotion for reaching and exceeding their Kickstarter goal and funding the next stage of the project. As well, Sara Terry reached beyond her fundraising goal for the documentary FOLK. There is still about a day to contribute if you want to be part of the founder’s community. The Grozny: Nine Cities campaign has 25 days left and could still use your support.

Worth a read: Alan Chin on the 9/11 decade

Alan Chin - The 9/11 Decade - BagNews Originals

I lived on the Lower East Side, but I slept through the impacts of the planes striking the Twin Towers, and only the ringing telephone woke me up. -Alan Chin on “the 9/11 Decade”: Beyond Pushpins On A Calendar

On BagNews Originals, Alan Chin has just posted a cogent look back at his work over the past decade. The photos, as always from Chin, communicate more than they show, looking beyond individual events to a larger narrative. The text in this piece is worth a read, though, drawing direct relation between seemingly disparate events of international significance and Chin’s own life.

And while we’re on the subject of 9/11, be sure to check out Martin Parr’s excellent take on the merchandising of September 11.