Location: Ames, IA, United States
My photographic practice in China centers on observing and documenting migrant workers and their children in Beijing. The highly marginalized and underrepresented migrant people community temporarily come to big cities for better jobs and education from less developed areas around China. Seen/Unseen: The Migrant Children was created during my voluntary service for a charity group in Heiqiao, a village where migrant workers and their children reside in the suburb of Beijing. I recruited a group of migrant children, teaching them photography while providing them with film cameras, and we worked closely on this project together.
Every piece of the final work consists of two visual parts: left side portrait taken by me as a deadpan observation; right side snapshots taken by the children using cameras I gave them, candid and intimate. The two major photography genres provide reading contexts for each other and intricately display an intrinsic atmosphere and feelings of their daily life. Meanwhile, photographs taken by the children reveal an incredibly in-depth observation from the perspectives of the true insiders. In addition, there are handwritings from the children that indicate their experiences living in both Beijing and their hometowns.
This project is an innovative documentary photography practice transferring the discourse power and subverting the traditional subject-object relationship, showing the seen and the unseen in the lives of the migrant children. With the fast and abrupt development of the economy of China, they may be beneficiaries in some ways but are also the victims. The displacement of the migrant people community results in their complicated social status and living conditions bringing them dilemma and contentment simultaneously. Those aftermaths in different layers reflect the complexity of my country’s current rapid development.