In this guest blog Yan tells us more about the project:
Back in October last year I was contacted by Open Eye Gallery to do something about contemporary Chinese people in Liverpool. I had done similar commissions before but this time the brief was different. There have been various photographic projects about Chinese people in Liverpool but most of them didn’t consciously seek to challenge the ‘stereotyped’ impressions of this immigrant community. Somehow the Chinese are still stuck behind the takeaway counters, in China Town and in Chinese restaurants. Meanwhile, both mainland China and Chinese communities worldwide, have changed a lot. Open Eye Gallery suggested that I could try to reflect this contemporary condition rather than looking into the kitchens again.
This brief was wonderful as I saw myself very much part of this contemporary community. So I jumped at the opportunity and began by working with the newest Chinese residents in Liverpool – the overseas students. I adopted the genre of portraiture. I would like to get to know them first before making the pictures. Of course, apart from being ‘Chinese’, the students are just young people trying to deal with a lot of issues, which are quite specific to their situation and age. They are curious but slightly lost, ambitious but also anxious about their future. I then contacted more Chinese people who have lived in Liverpool longer. Slowly an ‘ecology’ began to emerge. It appeared that the longer they live here, the more ‘Liverpool’ they become. And they are in all sorts of professions: photographer, musician/baker, JP and professors. I saw this as a very positive sign.
My photography is very much influenced by the type of ‘dead-pan’ aesthetic, in which very little emotion is revealed. Most of the visual beauty is restrained. The photographer’s job is to describe but not to pass on personal judgement. I adopted such aesthetic to this project. I didn’t want to make my sitters appear exotic, sexual or marginalised in any way. I simply wanted to make them visible, and to portray them as one of us; the person who just walks past you on the streets of Liverpool, or the person who you may bump into at the library. I did try to photograph more women, since they are less visible in the existing archives.
I have become quite fond of Liverpool in this process and made a lot of new friends!
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