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.