Living Otherwise: Buddhist Photography on the New Silk Road

Documentary Photography in China

 Since the 1990s the arts in China have exploded. Photography was one genre that quickly became a major field within the new contemporary art scene. As Wanning Sun (2015) has noted, the primary focus of new Chinese photography was travel, landscapes and fashion.

Yet a substantial number of photographers have also became engaged in documentary photography. This type of photography attempts to explore social-issues such as urban migration and the industrialization of the Chinese society. Although the state often tried to push these photographers to use their photography to represent the miracle of China’s rapid economic development and improving living conditions of Chinese rural-to-urban migrants, some of these photographers found ways to resist this ideological pull.

By the early 2000s the migrant-photographers such as Zhang Xinmin and Song Chao began portraying the precarious lives of migrants as they themselves lived. Zhang Xinmin’s first book Besieging the City (2004) and Song Chao’s Miners (2008), set the standard for a whole generation of migrant-photographers who were just beginning to find their voice at the margins of Chinese society.
Song Chao says that he wanted to move beyond representing migrants as “people, leading a dull, mysterious and hard life,” as is often perceived in mainstream representations of migrant lives. Instead his projects attempted to portray the full range of feelings that marginalized people possess. 

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