Tag Archive: china

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

Beijing Silvermine – reclaimed negatives from China 1985-2005

Beijing Silvermine – Thomas Sauvin from Emiland Guillerme on Vimeo.

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)

Worth a watch – Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol

Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol: Episode 2 – Moscow from Leica Camera on Vimeo.

Arrivals and Departures with Jacob Aue Sobol: Episode 6 – The Final Episode from Leica Camera on Vimeo.

“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.

Traces: new book by Ian Teh

Ian Teh talks about his new book, Traces by Troika Editions

Ian Teh talks about his new book, Traces by Troika Editions

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.

While you’re at it, Teh’s earlier book, Undercurrents, is available on Amazon. Get a preview at Teh’s website.

Interview: M. Scott Brauer’s “We Chinese”

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.

NYC Event: China Everbright featured in New York Photo Festival Slideluck Potshow XVI – 14 May 2011

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.

Worth a Look: Joerg Colberg interviews Nadav Kander

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:

Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic), Chongqing Municipality, (c) Nadav Kander

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.

We’ve previously posted about Kander’s Yangtze Project, with a link to a ten minute video presentation of the work that is really worth a watch. The project also won the Prix Pictet in 2009.

Worth a look: We Chinese – street portraits and interviews about the future of China

M. Scott Brauer - portraits from We Chinese

M. Scott Brauer - portraits from We Chinese

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.

Vote for “Small Concrete Boxes: Inside China’s Zoos” in the Viewbook Photo Story competition

M. Scott Brauer - Small Concrete Boxes: Inside China's Zoos at Viewbook Photostory

M. Scott Brauer - Small Concrete Boxes: Inside China's Zoos at Viewbook Photostory

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!

Remember Old Kashgar by M. Scott Brauer

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.

More photos from this story are available for license at M. Scott Brauer’s archive.

*only first name given over concern for safety