Piqued by the rampant transformation of China from a once homogenuous nation to a polarized nation of rising wealth and vast poverty, urban decay to sprawling ghost cities, state donated garb to that of haute couture ready to go wear I was pleasantly caught off guard when I came across French photographer Barbara Doux’s recent photo essay in China. Normally working as an award winning art director in London I put some questions to Ms Doux who it seems has quite wonderfully captured an eerie surreal void in the latest instalment of China’s rampant journey to the never ever land…
SCV: What inspired your themes in China by night?
BD: I was in the quest for the authentic China, wanting to capture its history from an
aesthetic point of view, which proved quite difficult as so little is left from China’s
past. Everything seemingly directed towards modernity, construction sites were
the main landscape offered to me. Yet, at night-time, China ghosts did appear to me.
SCV: In the photos there’s a sense of the foreboding, diabolical and at the same time impassioned? Would this be an accurate reflection of the daily vernacular and attitudes amongst the local denizens?
BD: I would like to affiliate this atmosphere to my own photographic style. However,
I did get the strong impression that local people could only reveal themselves
early in the morning or at night time, away from the tourist pollution of the day.
The diabolical feeling created by the night- lights, did convey a sense of a past
wanting to resurface to give guidance to lost souls.
SCV: Were you free to travel at will and take photos as you dared? Or was there a sense that one had to be careful of what you could photo?
BD: I was absolutely free to go wherever I wanted and to photograph whatever I wanted. I found it extremely easy, actually easier than in Europe! I travelled on my own for 20 days with no guide and no more than 2 Chinese words in my vocabulary: “ nin hao” and “ xie xie”, hello and thank you.
People were very welcoming and helpful as well as extremely curious about me, on my own, away from touristic areas. They seemed flattered to receive interest from an occidental.
SCV: Is living in China as a diabolical experience as some would have it? What tensions, disconcerted notions could one sense?
BD: Living in China isn’t a diabolical experience at all! I did observe a definite architectural discrepancy between the few left old buildings and the new ones, a certain tension between tourists (including Chinese ones) and local people, as well as a paradoxical contrast between the occidental tourists’ quest for the authentic China and Chinese people’s pride to finally be able to afford a meal to their local Mac Donald’s restaurant.
SCV: What observations did you come away from shooting subjects in China as opposed to say in London where you normally reside?
BD: Surprisingly, shooting in public spaces in China was much easier than I had found in London, for instance in canary Wharf or in the Thames Walk between Tower bridge and City Hall, all privately managed spaces where photography is prohibited. Once, in Pingyao I discovered a construction site where I decided to spend the day. I immediately was able to go, climb, shoot wherever I wanted without any restriction.
In London, just getting the authorization to go on site would have taken me months. As I said earlier, Chinese people were very open and welcoming which is a quite different response from the one I get from Londoners who rarely reveal themselves but past a certain time of the night and a certain amount of beers!
However being a tourist in China for 20 days is totally different from actually living there in the harsh reality of the everyday life. On my return to London, a terrible news from china shocked me: A 2 years old Chinese girl ran over by a van and being ignored by 18 people passing by…!