Tag Archive: china
We linked to a few of these images on twitter a few months ago, and the video above offers a deeper look at photo collector and editor Thomas Sauvin‘s project rescuing discarded negatives from Beijing’s recycling centers. The result is Beijing Silvermine (video by Emiland Guillerme above) a glimpse inside the lives of ordinary Chinese people, mostly in Beijing from 1985 to 2005, when digital photography overtook silver-based negative film photography. I’m often intrigued by photography that isn’t intended for the public, and this obsessive project has fascinating results. You can see more images at Shanghaiist and the Guardian.
(via LPV on twitter)
“In the streets I try not to make any rational decisions about what to photograph and what not. I do not have any rules. I take pictures of everything on my way: a tree, a building, a shadow, a person. Sometimes it takes me two hours to get down a street, because there are so many things to photograph and people to meet.” -Jacob Aue Sobol, Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol: Episode 5 – Beijing
Photography can be a solitary act; there’s the photographer and subjects and not much else. That’s why I relish it when I get the chance to see good photographers at work. I love seeing how they get into the situations that result in pictures, how they walk the streets, how they handle subjects. Videos like the ones above make me want to go out and make pictures in the same way that seeing a great band makes me want to learn to play the guitar.
Now, via the Leica blog, we have a couple videos of Jacob Aue Sobol (Magnum portfolio) at work in Russia, Mongolia, and China. He’s long been a favorite, so I’m especially excited about this. The videos are a quick glimpse, but interesting nonetheless to see what precipitates his raw and intimate imagery. The two videos are embedded above, named Part 2 and Part 6. The other parts are text and picture blog posts on the Leica blog: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6.
Ian Teh, long a favorite, has a new book out with Troika Editions. It’s called Traces, and collects two bodies of work from Teh’s China work. In one, “Dark Clouds,” Teh focuses on workers and images of their workplaces. The other, “Traces,” shows industrialized landscapes. At the Troika Editions site, there’s a short video interview with Teh talking about the work and how it came about. You can buy the book with a limited edition print directly from Troika Editions.
Sometime last year Scott mentioned to me that he was working on a new and unique project for him. He was still living in China and just beginning the process of putting 100 portraits and interviews together to create We Chinese. He wasn’t quite able to explain then what you he was trying to do, or how he thought it would turn out, but I was intrigued. When earlier this year I got a chance to see the final project I was left in wonderment and very excited, and I had a lot of questions that I wanted to ask as a friend and colleague to find out how this work had come about. I thought maybe we could, in the essence of the Dvafoto project, share our personal conversation with our audience as part of our Dvafoto Interview series.
What started you on the path to making a large portrait project like this, something you haven’t worked on before?
That’s exactly the reason. It was something I hadn’t worked on before. When I meet with editors and show them my work, I often get asked, “Where are the portraits?” I’ve never been a big fan of portraiture (although, to an extent, every photo is a portrait of some sort…), but like I’ve done with genres of music or movies in the past, I decided that if so many people like portraiture, and if portraiture is such a force in contemporary visual communication, I should be able to find something I liked about it if I just really tried at it. So I did.
I also thought that the story I wanted to tell about China through this project, a documentary approach wouldn’t suffice. I wanted to present people and their ideas, the interviews, with as little mediation as possible. I wanted to remove myself from the photography.
Did you, when you were beginning the work, know you were going to be leaving China?
Yes. I’d known for quite a few months before starting the project.
The two questions you asked everyone are in essence about the uncertain, rapidly evolving future of China, it feels like a question you yourself are struggling with. Where did the questions come from?
I wanted questions that weren’t easy to answer and that would get people (both the subjects and the audience) to think about themselves and their country. I worked on these two questions for a while before I thought they were ready to begin asking.
The first, “What does China mean to you?” started off as “What is China?” which I sort of distilled from questions I was asked on visits to the US when friends and family would ask me about life in China or the people or the future of the country and how it fits into global politics and economics. All of these questions could be distilled to “What is China?” But I thought that question was a little too easy to answer by saying something like “A country.” I got those answers with the reworded question, too, but the question gave space to the subject to interpret the question and their answer in many more ways.
And I realized that the first question was mostly a reflective one, a question about personal and national history. If you think about a question like that for your own country, “What does America mean to you?” for instance, you’ll answer about what your experience of that country has been so far and what you learned in history books. The second question was a way to get a glimpse of the future of China from the ground level. We see the 5-year plans and speeches by politicians, we see numbers relating to industry and commerce, and we see a lot of speculation about the country by cable news pundits. The individuals get lost in it all.
Are these questions common in Chinese society?
I don’t quite understand the question. If you’re asking about whether they refer to common sayings or something like that, as in the case of the title of the project, the answer is no. But the questions were chosen specifically to get individual opinions about the country and the people themselves. I had many versions of the questions before settling on the final version of the questionnaire. “What do you think about China?” for instance, instead of “What does China mean to you?” The first question might lead to easy and quick answers–”I think it is good,” perhaps–whereas the final version requires a bit more commitment and thought, the consideration of the country as it relates to the subjects rather than just a feeling about the country.
Were you hoping the responses from the subjects would answer questions you had in your own mind about China?
I was hoping that the responses would help me learn about what Chinese people think about their country. Speaking with Chinese people in China, it can be difficult to get individual opinions about bigger-picture issues. My own questions about the country don’t matter for the project. It’s not my country, and I only have a passing relationship with the place. In fact, the format of the project, with basic and unstylized portraiture and repeated interviews, was designed to eliminate my own input. I’m tired of books and essays from foreigners (my own included) that purport to explain “China.”
Why structure the project in this way, with ‘typological’ portraits, questionnaires, a standalone website?
I talked about the portraits above. The questionnaires filled a similar role in eliminating unnecessary variation in the responses. I figured I’d probably introduce some chaos into the responses by botching my pronunciation of a question…
The standalone website just seemed natural. Like the portraiture, it was something I’d never done for a project. The entire project didn’t feel right getting jammed into my portfolio website. Using a standalone website felt like giving the project its own art gallery. It feels better when it is separate and contained. I also like tinkering around with web programming and enjoy making wordpress do things it shouldn’t. That sounds dirty… When it comes down to it, I thought I had a cool idea for how I wanted the website to work, and I wanted to see if I could do it.
Is this project a closure to your time and work in China? Do you plan to go back?
It could function as closure for my work in China. I’ve got so much unedited work from my time there, though, that I’ll never be done. I’d love to go back any time, but I don’t have specific plans at the moment. I’ve got friends there that don’t have the means to travel internationally, and I’d love to see them again soon. And I miss the food.
I’m not sure if the project is done, though. I’d love to include a wider range of subjects in China or expand the project to other so-called emerging economies.
What is next for you?
I’ve relocated to Boston, Massachusetts. I’m excited to dig in to some stories in the US after being abroad for so long. I’m excited to be home (meant broadly; I’d never set foot in Massachusetts before moving here) and explore the US photographically.
What would be your answer to the two questions you asked of your subjects?
Laughably, I don’t have an answer. Many people I asked about to be in the project couldn’t come up with an answer and apologized because they thought the questions were too hard to answer. I will say that, for me, the country and its people can’t be summarized in a sentence or two, or a photo essay or two. It’s a nation of seeming contradictions–communist and capitalist, rich and poor, developed and undeveloped, Westernized and very mired in its own culture, polluted and working toward forward-thinking environmental initiatives, globalized and very local, and so forth–and that makes it an endlessly fascinating place.
We Chinese is currently featured on Burn Magazine. The project has also been featured on Forbes.com, Global Voices, Prison Photography, La Pura Vida, the China Beat, China Hush, Photoshelter, MetaFilter, PhotojournalismLinks, and here on dvafoto.
I didn’t expect to be back in New York so quickly after dvafoto’s visit last week, but this is especially exciting for me. I’m pleased to announce my work, China Everbright, will be shown as part of the New York Photo Festival in Slideluck Potshow XVI on May 14, 2011, in Brooklyn, New York. The slideshows for the evening–from a breathtaking assortment of photographers–were curated by Whitney Johnson, who has just recently been named Director of Photography for the New Yorker. The event is at St. Ann’s Warehouse at 38 Water Street in DUMBO, Brooklyn, New York, from 5:30p-10:30p.
The photographers selected for the evening are: Alex Fradkin, Alex Webb, Benjamin Sklar, Bruce Gilden, Carolyn Drake, Chris Hondros, Dominic Bracco, Dominic Nahr, Elena Dorfman, James Pomerantz, JR, Krisanne Johnson, Iwan Baan, Landon Nordeman, Luca Zanier, Luis Ladron de Guevara, Lyle Owerko, M. Scott Brauer, M. Wesley Ham, Mari Bastashevski, Mark Peterson, Martin Usborne, Matt Eich, Melanie Burford, Michael Christopher Brown, Natasja Fourie, Peter DiCampo, Phillip Toledano, Platon, Rinko Kawauchi, Stefano de Luigi, Steve Pyke, Steven Brahms, and Tim Hetherington. I’m excited to have my work shown in the company of so many talented and inspiring photographers; if you asked me for a list of my photographic idols, that list would be a goood start.
I also have one image in a slideshow presented by PDN at the New York Photo Festival, but I’m a little unsure on when and where that will be shown.
I hope you can make it to the event. If you’re there, please say hello. Here’s what I look like.
Joerg Colberg has posted another terrific interview with an interesting photographer in Conscientious Extended, this time “A Conversation with Nadav Kander”. Colberg previously wrote a book review about Kander’s project “Yangtze: The Long River”. There are many interesting ideas and questions brought up but I thought this reply was relevant to reprint here:
JC: I was gonna ask you something that’s related a little bit to something you said earlier. There are photojournalism and documentary photography, and we always think of those as very different from what artists do. I’ve always thought that a book like the one you did in a certain way is documentary. It’s just a different kind of documentary. Even though it is art it also informs us about a place.
NK: I think when you photograph new lands or new views with the clarity of a camera it always has a layer of documentary in it. But I think the intention of an artist needs to be away from documentary for it to fit into the art context. For it to fit into an art context it needs to reference or react to other art. I think it needs to sit well or change the direction of the mainstream. I think when you go and just document that isn’t one’s intention. That’s the main thing, the intention.
But of course, by photographing China with the clarity of the lens it of course becomes a sociological document, even though that wasn’t the intention. The intention was much more to make photographs the way I make them, which is to really go on automatic and to go with one’s feelings and let the humanness of the person making the work clearly show.
I’ve just launched the website for my latest project, We Chinese. This project grew out of a curiosity to find out what Chinese people think about their country and their future. In 2010, I traveled to major urban centers in eastern China stopping people on the street to ask the same two questions about their country and their future: "What does China mean to you?" and "What is your role in China’s future?" The respondents filled out a one-page typewritten questionnaire that included these two questions and some basic information including name, age, and occupation. The questions were interpreted variously, and the responses range from prosaic to poetic, from rote to inspired, and from unemotional to patriotic. While it’s difficult to draw conclusions about the entire population, the people photographed here expressed a sincere love of country and optimism about the country’s future development and peaceful position in the world. The final project incorporates about 100 portraits/interviews and includes people of various ages, gender, wealth, and hometown. For each person in the project, between five and ten declined to be photographed or fill out the questionnaire. You can read more about the project here.
You can participate in the project by posting your own response here.
I did a soft launch of the project by email last week, and the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Plenty of tweets and facebook messages. The project was posted to Metafilter today, as well. One of my goals with the project has been to engage the non-photography audience, and it seems to be doing that, at least a little. If you’d like to help, consider buying a print, posting a tweet or message on facebook, liking the facebook page, or clicking the flattr button for the project.
My story, “Small Concrete Boxes: Inside China’s Zoos,” has made it through the intial screening for the Viewbook Photo Story competition. The submissions are now open to vote, and I would appreciate your vote for my work. You can vote for more than one project in the competition. The vote button is below the main image box on the main story page.
About the story:
The animals are in cages that are too small. Weather conditions are inhospitable to many of the tropical animals on display. And the food supply is generally inadequate; visitors often throw junkfood into the trash-strewn pens. While all is not lost–in Hefei, a large city in Anhui Province, for instance, the tigers have been moved to a large, open-air habitat. Many other animals in Hefei and elsewhere throughout China, from Sanya in the far south to Beijing in the north, remain locked in their small concrete boxes. -Small Concrete Boxes
Thanks for your support!
One of the world’s oldest cities, Kashgar serves as both the spiritual and political capital of traditional Uighur culture. Since 1949, the modern People’s Republic of China has exerted strong control over the region, and Kashgar has been particularly hard hit. Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, a province covering 1/6th of China’s territory holds a majority of the country’s oil and gas reserves. Long at odds with the Uighurs’ sometimes bloody quest for independence, the Chinese government has insituted a program of subsidized migration and settlement in the area by Han majority Chinese. In so doing, the government hopes to develop a stable and robust economy whose purpose is the exploitation of the region’s natural resources and to overwhelm the local ethnicities. Whereas the Uighur population of Kashgar was previously as high as 90%, government settlement efforts have changed the city’s demographics to less than 70% Uighur, and the percentage is still dropping.
At the heart of Kashgar is the so-called Old City. Of tremendous historical value, the twisting alleyways and haphazardly built houses clump together and spring out of the city’s terrain in an organic and natural way. After sporadic uprisings and fighting between Uighurs and Hans, the Beijing-controlled municipal government has unveiled plans to completely renovate the Old City. Uighur families who’ve lived in the same location for, in some cases, hundreds of years will be uprooted and resettled in cookie cutter apartment blocks built according to contemporary Chinese building standards. Notwithstanding the individual upheaval of this process, the redevelopment of central Kashgar will radically transform the nature of daily life in the Uighur community. The alleyways of the Old City create a naturally closed and safe neighborhood structure in which children can play and neighbors interact without fear of outsiders or traffic. These alleyways also lead to central streets, arteries for the community on which Uighur-owned businesses thrive. All of this will change as the government imposes redevelopment on the Old City, though not everyone is convinced the change will be bad.
In his home not far from the Grand Bazaar, 60-year-old Mohmat* cries as he describes his life. Hans moving into the area have taken his job and his house is soon to be demolished. Unable to afford medicine, he smokes marijuana to relieve the pain in his liver and legs. Pages of the Koran hang on the walls of his bedroom. At once blaming China’s central government for his problems, he also sees some sense in the policies. His house has no plumbing and little electricity. With the new apartment buildings, his family would enjoy a marked improvement in their quality of life. Still, without a more systemic overhaul of city and state policies, and clear protection for Uighur employment and religion, he sees the development of the Old City as a small step toward much needed reform in Kashgar.
Others are more optimistic. On a bus from Kashgar to Hotan, a man named Askar* approaches me. A Uighur living in Urumqi, the provincial capital, his english is great and he’s eager to talk. ”I am hopeful,” he says of the future of Xinjiang. He worries about the transformation of Kashgar, but sees it as a necessary step in the progress of the region. His own life has changed dramatically, too. His first career was working as a newspaper journalist, but it felt to him like a deadend job. He spent hours upon hours teaching himself english in libraries and has been an Amway representative for the past year or two. Amway, of course, being the multi-level marketing scheme made popular in the US in the 1970s. ”I will be the president [of Amway] in 7 years,” he exclaims hopefully. His trip to Kashgar and Hotan, in fact, was to set up more Amway franchises. The business, he tells me, is an exciting opportunity, a way to live the American dream in a place that couldn’t be more different from the suburbs where Amway was made popular. The promise of a better of life offered by the company, and which is never achieved by the overwhelming majority of Amway representatives, provides Askar with a goal far removed from the problems facing Kashgar and the Uighurs.
*only first name given over concern for safety
Newsweek’s hard times continue. While stranded in Beijing, I picked up a copy of the China Daily (the country’s state-run English-language daily newspaper) and saw an interesting item about a Chinese investment group’s recent attempt to purchase Newsweek, the latest step in recent Chinese government- and individual-backed attempts to control China’s image across the globe. The only coverage, unfortunately, is China Daily’s report, but hopefully more deals will be forthcoming over the coming days. There is also a translated interview with the managing editor of Southern Weekly who was involved in the bid, as well as comments from the Chinese internet about the deal.
China’s global media strategy is an important topic. Just as Chinese investors have been taking over worldwide brands and real estate, the country now sees an opportunity to use its strong financial position to influence global opinion about the country and its government by investing in foreign media properties. China Radio International has been running spots on American radio stations, and owns a radio station in Galveston, Texas. There’s a 24-hour news channel aimed to compete against Al Jazeera, CNN, and the BBC. Media executives are being flown to China to for so-called “familiarization” tours. The ironically-named CCTV (China Central Television, the state television news apparatus) now broadcasts around the world in five languages. The goal of these efforts, as senior Fulbright scholar David Shambaugh recently put it in the New York Times, is “to try and raise China’s global profile and improve its image abroad.”
The Newsweek bid is one more such effort. As China Daily reports, it was a coalition of Chinese media professionals and private investors who put forth the money to buy the Washington Post Co. publication. The group, which includes the relatively independent Southern Daily Group, has denied any government involvement in the deal. Nevertheless, the move fits into the China’s general media strategy, a naive attempt to change global opinion about the country. China Daily writes:
Xiang said the move is for the world to have a better understanding of China, and for China to know more of the world.
Importantly, the investors and Chinese media watchers see this bid for Newsweek as only a beginning. Again, in the China Daily report: “The move is an encouraging trend for China’s going-out strategy,” said Yu Guoming, vice-president of the journalism school at the Beijing-based Renmin University of China. “The strategy has, for a long time, focused on overseas expansion of Chinese media.”
More reading: China’s Go-Out Strategy, Can China Successfully Build Soft Power Without A Global Internet Strategy?, Five Have Left Newsweek, Staffers Believe More Are To Follow. But, Lo: Another Potential Bidder! (likely unrelated to the Chinese bid news, but indicative of Newsweek’s current situation)