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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Three Artists Photographing the Diverse People of China

Several articles recently caught my eye not only because they highlight how photographs can bring better understanding to often overlooked or misunderstood sides of China, but also because they touch on themes I plan to further delve into. I recommend reading the following articles and taking some time to consider the people and scenes captured in the photographs. There are so many stories in these stories.

1. One method I have used in my research is to ask people to empty their bag or pocketbook. Not only can it provide important insights into their everyday lives, but it can also stimulate revealing discussions. Didi Kirsten Tadlow wrote about one of Huang Qingjun’s projects that takes this concept to a grander level than I have ever attempted. Huang asked people to move the entire contents of their home to an outdoor area:
“I wanted to show ordinary people. Show them in their environment and at home, the connection,” says Mr. Huang, a tall 40-year-old from Heilongjiang Province on the border with Russia. “Because China is a place that is changing.”

The link between people and their possessions is apt, because above all, China is getting richer — though that’s perhaps not the first thing a viewer sees in the photographs, which focus on ordinary people who don’t seem to own much.
Read more of Tadlow's article and explore the details in Huang's photographs here.

2. Claire O'Neill writes about Japanese photographer Go Takayama's desire to understand the impact of China's rapidly expanding infrastructure on remote regions:
While some focus on what these roads will bring to China's economy, Japanese photographer Go Takayama is more interested in what that means to people — especially those in some of China's most remote western regions, like the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region. Many ethnic minorities there, such as the Kyrgyz, have sustained a traditional nomadic way of life — until now.

Takayama had read an article about plans for a highway that would stretch through western China into Kyrgyzstan. A few months later, he was driving toward Kyrgyzstan and picked up a hitchhiker "on the terms that I could follow him to his destination," he says.
Tokayama's project reminds me of the several cities and villages I may have never otherwise visited or even heard of if they were not stops on China's new high speed rail lines. Read more of O'Neill's article and gaze at Takayama's photographs's here.

3. Last and definitely not least, Kerri MacDonald wrote about a project by Lucas Schifres that relates to a topic receiving significant attention in the U.S.:
In “Faces of Made in China,” a series of typological portraits looking at workers inside six Chinese factories, the photographer Lucas Schifres seeks to consider the otherwise anonymous people who produce our essential possessions by looking directly into their eyes...

...when they interviewed the workers, the photographer and his team found that the pride was really there.

“The answer was always, ‘Oh, we’re very proud; we’re happy that the products go all around the world,’ ” Mr. Schifres said. “‘This is good for China; this is good for our generation.’”

“They have absolutely no idea about controversies around the world about the Made in China products,” he added.

From Zhang Hao, a 16-year-old who was already onto his second job as a manufacturer at a factory in Yiwu (Slide 5), to Wang Jang, a 22-year-old from Chongqing with a 3-year-old daughter (Slide 3), many of the stories followed similar threads. Most of the workers had moved from rural areas to make a better living, hoping to send money home or make a better life for their children. But Mr. Schifres was captivated by the little details.

“They’re people, too,” he said. “China is not this machine the size of a country that pops out cheap T-shirts without anybody doing it.”
The sense of pride and the unawareness about the controversies surrounding their work is very consistent with much of what I have found in China. Read more of Kerri's article and look into the eyes of the people Schifres photographed here.

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