Huang Qingjun’s intimate portraits of Chinese families – Family Stuff

Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Mongolian Batu Aoqier and his wife, AoYong Qimuge, are standing in front of their yurt, Inner Mongolia, 2007
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Mongolian Batu Aoqier and his wife, AoYong Qimuge, are standing in front of their yurt, Inner Mongolia, 2007

Introduction

Usually, life is viewed from the perspective of people as they appear in public. It is not unusual to come across a rich-looking individual only to realize that their background or where they call home is not as lavish. When what we consider normal is transformed inside out, a whole new dynamism of sights emerges.

When Huang Qingjun took his first family picture of such nature in 2003, it would be the beginning of a new view in photography. Together with Ma Hongjie, they have for 10 years now been capturing scenes of life in its fragility.

Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Yang Liu, Beijing, 2014

Unwrapping the essence of life

China is a big economy competing on the global front with countries such as the US, UK, and Japan. These pictures aim to unwrap the essence of life as it is for the ordinary Chinese family, a display of the conditions under which they survive.

The portraits allow people to see beyond the walls behind which people live and, in so doing, show the interaction between people and that which they own.

Speaking about the process, Huang Qingjun said1:

People usually only invite good friends to their homes, because it’s a private space, but my pictures show what people possess. They satisfy our natural curiosity.

Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff

Chinese families & their belongings

It takes a great deal of persuasion to convince people that might never had their photograph taken before to carry all their possessions to the front of the house and pose for a picture. While it is given that different people will have different paths to follow in life, these pictures show the extent to which human existence is interwoven.

At first, it may appear that the pictures are aimed at displaying the social-economic empowerment of various classes of people. Well, to some extent, they do. Those who work in urban centers use and require different gadgets compared to their counterparts in rural areas.

The project also shows how different people value their belongings. A Tibetan monk that participated in Family Stuff owns next to nothing, while others are seemingly addicted to online shopping. Huang Qingjun wants to show that happiness doesn’t depend on physical belongings.

Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Gyatsoling Rinpoche, a 25-year-old Tibetan monk, Pinto Lin Temple in Changdu, Tibet
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Gyatsoling Rinpoche, a 25-year-old Tibetan monk, Pinto Lin Temple in Changdu, Tibet. Aged four, Gyatsoling was called a reincarnation of a Living Buddha. After graduating from the Tibet Medical College, he now works at the Buddhist Research Institute in Changdu, Tibet.

What the photos reveal

In a broader sense, the pictures reveal the baseline of human existence today. Almost every homestead has a television set, mobile phone, and utensils, regardless of how different they may appear to be.

This was also thanks to the Chinese government building roads and establishing electricity in numerous villages. Having access to power enabled citizens to buy a tv, access news, and, more importantly, new ideas from the outside world.

Still, the biggest challenge in rural China is access to education and healthcare, according to Huang. Regardless, Huang says2 that people’s lives have changed enormously. Maybe their incomes haven’t been affected as much as in the cities, but their thinking has.

Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff; A recently refurbished home and a laundry machine display actual transformation in a small Guizhou village

Challenges

In an interview with the BBC3, Huang spoke about the many challenges he encountered while taking photos for his project:

Most people thought what I was proposing was not normal. When I explained I wanted to set up a photo, that it would involve taking everything out of their house and setting it up outside, that took quite a lot of explaining. But almost all of them, when they realised what I was trying to do, they understood the point.

He continued that most people he encountered had significantly fewer possessions than those in cities, who would often be too bothered to participate in Family Stuff. In some cases, organizing a photo took him a few days. In others, several months as he waited for a pair to move houses.

In this case, their home was marked with the Chinese character 拆 (chāi), which means “to tear down”. Millions of other Chinese had the same experience, with construction paving the way to build large settlements.

Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff

These pictures will be pieces of history

When Huang Quingjun and Ma Hongjie decided to do a joint project in 2003, they knew that it would take time. Since then, they have held a couple of exhibitions, showing the results of their collaboration.

The economic situation in China is definitely time-bound, and this is the beauty that makes this project such a unique venture because, in time, the pictures will be pieces of history.

Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Yang Chin. Aged 17, ten years ago, Yang moved from her home in south-eastern Tibet to Lhasa, Tibet’s capital. Picking up work in a café, she learned how to shop online from the owner. Her most precious item is a pair of torn jeans.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 26 year-old Li Nian, Beijing
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 26 year-old Li Nian, Beijing. Li recently graduated from a film school in Beijing. Loving model planes since an early age, he now operates an aerial photography studio.

Future plans

Huang Qingjun said that he intends to continue working on Family Stuff, but he is trying to take the project in a slightly different direction. Having taken photos of many everyday people, he is looking to work with famous people so that they show their belongings.

In an interview, he said:

I really want to photograph some entrepreneurs or government leaders. If I dare to dream, I want to photograph President Xi Jinping. People would be curious to see what he has. People are all born equal, but we all follow different paths under different living conditions.

Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 43 year-old Farmer Lu Qunzhi, Baisha Village, Lijiang, Yunnan province
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 43-year-old Farmer Lu Qunzhi, Baisha Village, Lijiang, Yunnan province
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 48 year-old Mao Hongwei, Yuanling, Tonglu County, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 48-year-old Mao Hongwei, Yuanling, Tonglu County, Hangzhou, Zhejiang province
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 66-year-old Hao Yanhua, Dong Fang Hong, northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 66-year-old Hao Yanhua, Dong Fang Hong, northeastern Chinese province of Heilongjiang.

Conclusion

Family Stuff owing to the professional background of the artists behind it is considered not only an artwork but also a journalistic piece that bears a story. Like any news item, it takes time, up to several months, to prepare a location of a picture. Still, the result is compelling, which will no doubt be appreciated by future generations.

Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Jia Yuhao and Lu Xuefeng, Lhasa, Xizang province
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Jia Yuhao and Lu Xuefeng, Lhasa, Xizang province. A few years ago, this couple quit their well-paying jobs to move to Tibet and run a small hotel. Loving the outdoors, they are portrayed in wearable sleeping bags.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Liu Chunxiao, Ji’an County, Tonghua, Jilin province, near the border of China and North Korea
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Liu Chunxiao, Ji’an County, Tonghua, Jilin province, near the border of China and North Korea. After living and working in Poland for 20 years, Lin relocated to northeast China. She now operates her website on which she sells honey and wine.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Liu Jun (33), Mongolia. Every spring and fall he returns to his parents.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Liu Jun (33), Mongolia. Prior to settling in a town, Liu and his family lived as nomadic herders for generations. Each spring and autumn, he moves to live in a yurt.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Liu Manfu, Hebei Province, 2014
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Liu Manfu, Hebei Province, 2014
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Sun Bin, Zhejiang Province
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Sun Bin, Zhejiang Province
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, The Uyghur Ayixianguli, Mierkamili and their two children, Kashgar, in autonomous Uyghur region of Xinjiang
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, The Uyghur Ayixianguli, Mierkamili and their two children, Kashgar, in autonomous Uyghur region of Xinjiang
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Wang Liping, Li Yinzhen, and Wang Xianggui; Guangdong Province, 2011
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Wang Liping, Li Yinzhen, and Wang Xianggui, a fishing family. Most of their belongings are linked to cooking, in Guangdong Province, 2011
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Wang Yafeng (28), Heilong-Jiang Province
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Wang Yafeng (28), Heilong-Jiang Province. Wang owns a youth hostel located near the border with Mongolia.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Zhang Boya (28), Beijing
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Zhang Boya (28), from Chaoyang Park, Beijing. Huang is pictured with last year’s wedding gifts. Her most precious belonging is a mirror decorated with a small bird sculpture on top of it.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Huang Xufeng and Liu Yuhong; Heilongjiang Province, 2009
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Huang Xufeng and Liu Yuhong; Heilongjiang Province, 2009
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Jin Kuiji and Chen Youzhen with their antique furniture. Taken in Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province, the hometown of leading Chinese Lu Xun, 2011
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 40-year-old artist Wenjue He, Beijing
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 40-year-old artist Wenjue He poses with his car and a collection of ceramics, Beijing
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Aer Yingming (34), Yunnan Province
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, Aer Yingming (34), Yunnan Province. Aer and her family live in southwest China. While she is from China’s Yi minority, her husband is from the Naxi minority.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 28 year-old Huang Jianguang, Rongshui, Miao Autonomous County, Liuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 28-year-old Huang Jianguang, Rongshui, Miao Autonomous County, Liuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 28 year-old Mahmoodjan and his wife, Kashgar, Xinjiang.
Huang Qingjun – Family Stuff, 28-year-old Mahmoodjan and his wife, Kashgar, Xinjiang. Mahmoodjan, a Uighur, was the only one in his family to attend university.

All images by Huang Qingjun unless otherwise noted.

Art in remote places

Footnotes

  1. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32498456
  2. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19648095
  3. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-19648095

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