Since 2009, I have been working on a photographic project about Xiaobeilu, a neighborhood in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou, which is home to some 40,000 Africans. These immigrants work primarily as traders buying fabrics, electronics and machinery produced in the Pearl River Delta, and selling these products back in Africa. While photographing, I came across a young Chinese man named Wu Yong Fu who had a digital point and shoot camera and was selling his services as a photographer to Africans who were passing by on one of the pedestrian walkways in the neighborhood. The Africans would hire him to make a portrait, which Wu Yong Fu would then print out on a portable printer, and pay him a small amount - $2 or so. He was one of several others, essentially Chinese migrant workers, trying to cash in on the Africans who might want a souvenir of their time in China.
I approached him to have a look at the photographs and found them compelling. There was a sense of self-portraiture in the images, as if the Africans were in conversation with themselves and the people who would see the images back home. There was also something reminiscent of African traditions in portrait photography. I asked the photographer, Wu Yong Fu, if he would be willing to give me a selection as I wanted to show them to people in the West. He agreed and gave me a selection of several thousand images.
Currently, My intention is to create a book and exhibition which combines the portrait photographs of Wu Yong Fu with my own images which focus on the urban landscape of neighborhood itself giving context to the portraits. The project offers insight into several vital issues: China’s growing influence in Africa, China's resistance to immigration from the developing world and race relations between the two cultures. The images are also a new take on vernacular photography as the images reveal something surprising and unknown about the present moment rather than about the past which is more typical of such found images. It shows a subculture and perspective that would not otherwise have been seen.
Loading more stuff…
Hmm…it looks like things are taking a while to load. Try again?