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Interview with Hu Yang

Author: Wang Jie 2005-05-27

Tolstoy once wrote in his "Anna Karinena": happy families are all happy in a same way while unhappy families are unhappy in its own way.

About 500 families living in this metropolis that captured by Hu Yang reveal a kaleidoscope view on the life "behind the doors."

"I started the project half a year ago," says 45-year-old Hu, "My original plan was to focus on 100 families on different social ladders. Yet after three months, I found this number was far from enough."

These photos fabricated a real and vivid picture of people in their apartments in Shanghai with different backgrounds - the luxury living facilities, a messy kitchen, people's self-entertained or helpless looking give a strong visual impact.

Hu intentionally intensifies 3-dimension's penetrating power on his photos, and the viewers can easily step into the life of the people in the picture.

"I hope that viewers would find some social problems in the society via my photos," he says, "For example, the great gap between the rich and the poor in the society."

Sometimes the pictures are a bit cruel, in particular when a migrant couple's shabby dwelling immediately followed by a billionaire's extravagantly decorated living room.

"But I bet you could never tell the result on who is leading a happier life," says Hu with a wicked smile.
Each time Hu hands out a questionnaire to the family that he is going to shoot. Three same questions are written such as "What is your current living condition?" "What is your most desired thing to do if without any particular concern on time, money and energy?" and "What is the biggest torture now in your life?"

"Until the moment I checked all the answers did I find that life in fact is fair to everyone," he says, "Because most of the rich people exchanged their happiness and time to earnings."
Yet Hu himself once belonged to such "unhappy group."

Born in a well-fed family in 1959, Hu first worked as a carpenter upon graduation.

"But our family at that time had a personal saving amounting to 60,000 yuan, because my family ran a big ham company before the `cultural revolution."' Hu recalls, "You know how the figure meant in the early 1980s in China? An imported FIAT car was sold around 8,000 yuan. My original plan was to purchase three FIAT cars and form a taxi company. But my father thought it was dangerous to operate a cab company. In his view, the safest way in dealing money was to put them in a bank."

With no living pressures that burdened on his shoulders, Hu soon diversified his interest to camera - a costly hobby during that period.

All his monthly salary was consumed for film rolls, camera equipments. But piles of piles of photos in his apartment finally enraged his parents.

"My mother called me a black sheep," he says, "They were unwilling to see me lavish all the money on photograph."

Hu had to find something decent to do in his parents' eyes. He then formed an advertising company with several friends.

The huge profit from the advertising company solved Hu's living problems, and he unwittingly turned to his camera two years later.

"I wanted to leave Shanghai, as I didn't like the cultural aura here," he explains, "Also I didn't like Shanghai men who were too considerate and sometimes narrow-minded. I preferred to stay at Beijing for a while."

However, a freelancer photographer with no connection or background in a strange city was doomed to fail. Hu was almost penniless one and a half year later in Beijing.

"But I was lucky that someone invited me to shoot stills on-site," he says, "It really saved me out of my dilemma."

Hu's high-quality pictures soon won him fame in the film community. Miraculously he formed his second company dealing with stills, media promotion and documentary shooting in Beijing. He co-operated with big shots including Chen Yifei and his dramatic film "The Barber."

"We were good partners," he laments, "It was such a pity that the film finally drained him."

Due to the dispute between Chen and the Jiang Wen, the former leading character, the film was postponed with a huge financial loss.

"I paid the rest of money in advance and Chen Yifei later gave me a bunch of his paintings to recover the cost," he says.

Chen's sudden death in this April and the violent rise in the price of his canvas were too sudden for Hu.
"I came back to Shanghai and worked at Tatler as a photographer for half a year," he says, "But I was rather fed up with capturing on well-off madams."

He thus starts to "knocks the doors" of different families and enters to their life.

The protagonists have completely at ease with their familiar space, and there is not any spot of vestige left between conventional shooting and snap shooting. The dignity of ordinary people or the lucky people's loneliness have provided a "drama" that conjured up by Hu.

His photos are now popular among collectors and museums. He will be invited to join the Pingyao International Photography Exhibition several months later.

"In my life, I never treat money seriously, though most time it comes to me easily," he says, "But I know how to break its bondage in my life a long time ago."

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