China Notebook
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I might not have paid much attention to Mr. Jiang had it not been for the photographs he had attached to the first message. I have this past year heard from a number of photographers in Asia, most of them living outside mainland China. All are very competent, even sophisticated, but many also seem too much influenced by some of the worst models in western culture; for the viewer there is little chance of engagement, and in consequence their work is wont to remain, as historian Edgar Wind would say, a passing parade. Mr. Jiang's photographs, however, are of a different order. They are almost innocent. Most are straightforward black and white photographs of children or scenes of people, many of them plainly living on the edge of modern Chinese society. Most of the children are obviously in poor circumstances, some clearly belonging to minority groups. But the most interesting characteristic of this body of work, its strength, is in the approach to the subjects. Mr. Jiang is respectful, even loving, in a way that seems trustworthy. Moreover, it is one of the few instances where I feel I have encountered a wholly Chinese sensibility at work. In short, I came away with the feeling that for a moment my own eyes were permitted to be Chinese, and that my understanding of what it is to be a human being in these particulars had suddenly increased.

I now have digital representatives of more than a hundred photographs made by Mr. Jiang over several years, including photographs of many more children and adults, a record of a harvest festival for Tibetan farmers (made on one of his excursions outside Guangdong Province to Szechwan Province in Central China), and a very interesting group of color photographs of "boat people" and "peasants" made in Yangchun on the Muyang river. Newspaper and magazine reports tell me that the rivers yield few fish nowadays because most are polluted owing to over-population and rapid industrial development. How these people might make a life, then, becomes a puzzle. Most of the children photographed live in a remote village called Pingshi, which is about 150 miles west of Guangzhou, and part of a district called "Yubei" -- described by Mr. Jiang as a region stretching from Lianan (near Qingyuan in the east) to Pingshi (near Shaoguan in the west). The people of this area do in fact belong to minority groups, he told me later. The government refers to them simply as either the "Red Group" or the "White Group."

For the presentation on these pages I have selected photographs made in Pingshi, Lianan, Yangchun, and in the vicinity of Guangzhou. There are no titles for the photographs, only file numbers with initials indicating where they were made -- LN refers to Lianan, YC to Yangchun, JZ is Szechwan Province, but J and CLN remain something of a mystery until either Mr. Jiang or our translator can provide better information. It may help to refer to the map I have provided [see page 4] based on information given to me by Mr. Jiang.

Lastly, I will not comment on specific photographs. It isn't necessary; I believe that good photographs speak well enough for themselves.


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Intangible