Living Otherwise: Buddhist Photography on the New Silk Road

A Documentary Ethos

Like Song Chao and Zhang Xinmin, Tian Lin was also inspired by the “on-the-spot” and “amateur” ethos espoused by New Documentary and Sixth-Generation Beijing filmmakers such as Wu Wenguang and Jia Zhangke. The ethos of “on-the-spot” aesthetics refers to a filmmaking that privileges the rawness of representation of the site in which documentary films are made; where as the “amateur” ethos is one that emphasizes non-commercial and non-professional aspect of such work. For these filmmakers it is about passion for the work, not the end result.

Tian Lin's framing was also shaped by the work of American documentary photographers of African-American migrants during the Great Migration to American cities and white settlers in California in the 1940s. The ethos of "moving" an audience to care about the suffering of others, that he saw in the work of Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans and Gordon Parks was a source of inspiration as he struggled to come to terms with the enormity of the problems he saw in the migrant communities in Ürümchi. 

In all of this work, both from these independent filmmakers and documentary photographers, Tian Lin saw an attention to the lives of those who do not fit in dominant narratives of success. He saw in their work images of failure, but also images of people finding ways to endure. He saw forms of what he refers to as “extreme beauty” in the lives people shared. 

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