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Interview with H-Magazine, Spain


1. The meaning of documentary photography for you:
I am interested in the change of society and the reflection of this change in peoples lives.

2. The concept behind your project:
With photography, I want to document people's life and environment and also their attitude. It has a historical aspect, I would like that people also in 50 or 100 years can know about our lives today. From a sociological point of few, the images can show the economical and social changes of our society.

3. How did the idea come up?
It was easy to visit peoples homes before the 'modernization and opening' of China started. People lived close to each other. Now there is more distance, less chances to see people's homes, we meet outside, or write e-mails etc. I wanted that also now people can see how other people live, a little bit going back to the time when people were closer, more familiar with each others life.

4. The rich and the poor in your eyes:
They are the same for me, for my camera, it doesn't matter if they are foreigners, countryside people, Shanghai people, all are just people. I am not looking down on the poor or up on the rich, I shoot with the same distance, same attitude.

5. How did you get access to the houses of all these people? Has it been easy to convince them to get photographed?
At the beginning through relatives and friends, they introduced me to many people, then this people introduced me to others, the circle got broader and broader. It was often not so easy to convince people. Many people here are now very self protective, protective of their own space, the home became much more a private place in recent years here, many refused, protection of own image plays also a role.

7. Your conversations with the people you photographed.
I asked normally 3 questions: - how is your life situation now - what is your wish, hope - what is the biggest pain/trouble at the moment?

8. Your method of working with interviews.
It was always a conversation, I kept the 3 questions in mind, but we talked  about many other things, mixed them up with many other questions

9. How many differences between people when they are in their living rooms or in their bedrooms?
(LH I think a translation error, from his answer it looks he replied to "how did you select the room where to take the photo" It was a 'subjective' choice but one I hope represents the host. The people showed me all rooms, I was looking for the place which represents the people best (their economic status, hobbies, beauty ideals etc) Many of course had just one room, so i was just selecting the angle, which showed the special feature of the family/home best.

10. Shanghai Living in the 21st century.
I don't know, I just see how the society develops, I am not futurologist, I am a documentary man, but as society develops, i will shoot, document the situation of the society and the peoples who live then.

11. What is your most desired thing to do if without any particular concern on time, money and energy?
Create a photo museum, with photos from all the different periods of China, collect historical photos and exhibit them, do catalogues etc.

12. And "What is the biggest torture now in your life?"
(xin you yu, li bu zu) If there is something I know already that I can do, but I can not do it yet.

13. What is your current living condition?
OK, satisfied, not rich not poor.

14. Is money important to you?
Important, an important tool.

15. What is happiness for you?
To be able to do what I like to do.

16. How did you pursue photography?I studied music, Erhu (a traditional Chinese string instrument), but I had an accident with my hand and couldn't go on, then I took up photograpie in 1980.

17. Photographers you have as a point of reference?
Robert Capa Ribo.

18. In your interviews you have mentioned that you come from a Chinese wealthy family. How has it been being Chinese and rich twenty years ago?
Yes, very few people had '10,000 RMB'  then, we had so much already 30 years, it is a good life, since nobody had money, cloth and food was no problem for us, while many struggled with that. We could eat a little bit better, dress better, but besides that we could not buy much, there were 'ration tickets', everything then was 'rationed' that is, each household had right to buy a certain amount of rice, oil, sugar etc, so to buy things you needed money, but you needed also the 'tickets', just with money alone you couldn't buy anything

19. Does your house look like any of the houses you have photographed?
I have a room in an old house, it's proper, has some paintings, perhaps similar to some 'cultural works' in my photos, it is not very nice, but I like it most, it's close to nature, I can hear birds. I have also another home in a new upper class development, but I don't like it.

20. How are things in advertising and film in China now?
The advertisement industry develops well, the economy is better, so the ads get better, all the big international companies are here, the local companies develop strongly. The movies are not doing well yet, art movies have no public, no money, many directors regress, give up a personal direction, ticket sales is the only aim, but they don't succeed, commercially and also not artistically.

21. Your future projects?
Shanghai streets/alleys ('Shanghai longtang'), it is a long-term project, life in Shanghai alleys from 1980 to 2005, I have taken the photos already, now I have to take them out, sort, make a book.

22. Your biggest wish for the future?
Peace on earth and that China develops smoothly.

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