Kevin Bjorke
Kevin Bjorke
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Tienanmen Square (C)2004 K. Bjorke

This morning, while randomly surfing I came across Vincent Laforet’s Website. Laforet is an excellent well-known shooter with the New York Times.

Looking into his “Projects” area, I saw “China - Past and Future Intertwined …shot in Beijing and Shanghai, China over a period of eight days.” Figured I should take a gander, having just returned from a similar trip (though not for the purpose of making photos, but to attend developer events and meetings — photography simply gives an excuse and structure to my compulsive flanerie, squeezed in for an hour or two in bits during the week).

What surprised me was just how much the photos Laforet had made, and my own photos, overlapped — at least in terms of very particular locations, situations, and in one or two cases, I think we may have even photographed the same people (in a country with a billion population).

Now I’m not going to be bent out of shape over how miserable I might feel when I saw his striking shots, nor indignantly defend my own. They’re different takes, for different purposes. What surprised me was the many coincidences between our photographic itineraries, chosen in my case to bypass obvious tourist spots for the most part (we even seem to have visited the Great Wall in similar, tourist-free and dilapidated sections). But clearly both were still being made with the foreigner’s eye, albeit one that thought it was so doggoned journalistic and clever.

Not that there’s any shortage of homebrew photographers in China — I’ve just been working through Red-Color News Soldier by Li Zhensheng, a news shooter in Northest China throughout the Cultural Revolution of the 1960’s. Unlike most, Mr. Li kept his thousands of negatives from those days (by hiding them under the floor), and they paint a picture of a China already so different from today’s — I found myself exclaiming “wow” with most every turn of the page. Li’s photos remind me how so many of the people I met there must have been the very same brutal young revolutionaries of Li’s pictures. Today, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone wearing a Mao suit though — I only saw one old green jacket being used by a farmer to carry chestnuts, and one doddering pensioner, probably a domestic tourist to Tiananmen, wearing a faded gray version. I wonder how much he missed thronging there as a Red Guard.

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