China Notebook
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I have included below portions of messages sent to me by Mr. Jiang. They offer a very interesting picture of life in this "new China," and they give us a glimpse inside the life and struggle of one of its photographers. We learn from Mr. Jiang, for example, that in China today public interest in "serious" photography is practically nil. Millions of people own cameras and make photographs, but for most it is a kind of sport (though, in fact, I just received from another friend a copy of a 1965 Hong Kong Camera Club publication that offers proof that photography is by no means a new sport in China). But for all the popularity of photography in China today, it remains an "activity," and not yet a practice. Sadly, there are no commercial galleries, museums, or other institutions that might support and encourage photography. As Mr. Jiang tells us in one note, "[photographs] were sold just like trash."

But let him tell you the story. His words have the same economy of means and plain grace of his photographs, and what he has to say about his photographs, about the lives of his subjects, and about the conditions in China today for photography and photographers is worth our attention. English remains a struggle for Mr. Jiang, so most of the messages were composed in Chinese. I'm confident that the translations we obtained have captured both the spirit and meaning of his words.

Mr. Jiang (writing in English) concerning himself and his work:

I am a guy who forever is taking photos, and I always went outside to shoot some photos about people and view. These photos were taken in a poor village far from Guangzhou, and the people live a poor life, but the people out there were honest and hard working. So I have taken many photos in the village. I hope the people in the world can take care of these poor children through the pictures. The pictures which I sent to you were a part of me.

More about himself and the photographs of the children, this time writing in Chinese (and, in fact, from here on he writes most of his messages in Chinese):

My job is related to selling computers... but because of certain limitations, I can only take pictures during my spare time.

These photos were taken in November of last year [1996]. They were taken in the "Yubei" area of Guangdong Province. The Yubei area is a poor part of Guangdong Province. People are dependent on agriculture for living. Since it's far from a city and transportation is inconvenient, the educational opportunities are limited, and their thinking is still very innocent and pure. They haven't been influenced by modern society. They are living life freely and without worry. The children of this place study in low quality schools. A lot of the children have to walk at least ten miles on hilly roads to go to school.

These reasons stimulated my desire and creativity to use cameras to record their daily activities. The children are poor and still so innocent. This kind of thing is not possible to capture in the cities. Also, the reason we want to capture the pictures is for people in the cities to know that there are a lot of other poor people in our society and to let them know the reality.

Concerning his camera and darkroom:

My camera quality is not very good, so the contrast might not be that good... The photos I'm sending you here I directly made from negatives, so they were not processed. I'm using a limited-range lens, so the contrast is not precise. I read some books about Ansel Adams, and I also know something about his "zone system" of photography. But my darkroom is rather rudimentary, so I am having some production difficulty.

About Hong Kong and also the idea of exhibiting on the Internet:

How are you. First, thank you for your concern over Hong Kong's matter. This thing makes every Chinese very happy. It washed off 150 years of humiliation. We will stand up in the world again.

I learned that you are going to display my photographs on the Internet... I will make more pictures using my eyes to discover more things to display the great Chinese people to the world. Let the world understand and care for the Chinese people. Let them know in the Old East there is a group of never-yielding people who are stubbornly laboring for humankind. Our lifestyle and thinking are different from westerners... but we all of humankind.

Recent note concerning black and white vs. color photographs:

I like to take black and white pictures, because color will make people see less. Black and white makes it more interesting.

Concerning the plight of photography in China:

Some time ago, there was news in the papers about a flea market in Peking, of photographs selling for [Chinese amount of $2 to $3]. If you buy more, they sell to you in terms of weight. So there was a famous photographer, who as a result bought several kilograms of photographs. This photographer was very saddened. He said in our country we really don't value photography. These photos, some of them, have won national or international awards. In each photo there is a lot of time and money. However, they were sold just like trash.

And this is truly the biggest sadness of Chinese photographers. Their art is worthless. Therefore, if you want to live as a photographer, it's impossible. Over here, the most you can get is [he gives a vague amount: over $10, and under $100]. This amount is not even enough for buying the film. Chinese photographers live in hardship.


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