A statement from the artist:
When I came to China in 1984, I was neither prepared for the changes the country was embarking on nor that the experience would change me so profoundly. Coming as an undergraduate for a year of study abroad, I would go on to spend almost three decades in the People’s Republic – more than in my own home country of England.
Many overseas photographers would visit for short working visits in this time, but I was the only one to be based in China throughout, documenting and living the experience as closely as possible. I built an archive of around 2 million images and this is just the first book planned, reflecting what first inspired me to devote my working life to the country.
As a young man arriving in a youthful country – more than half the population (then just over a billion) was under 25 in 1984 – I felt in the midst of a very different society than the small market town I had grown up in. Even the London I had just left after a year at university seemed slow, elderly and predictable by comparison.
Perhaps my original focus on China’s ancient history and culture left me off guard when confronting the present just as the reform and opening up era was gathering momentum. The recently introduced policies that would reinvigorate China and in a generation impact every corner of the globe were just starting to be visible.
Back in 1984, I did not know quite what to make of what I was seeing and I responded not with words but with photographs most of which in this book have never been shown or published before. These are for the most part my personal record of what struck me as worth remembering visually. Walking, cycling, taking slow trains, slower boats and long bus trips to every province I carried a small camera and a lot of film often with no better plan than to see an area about which I knew too little.
Instinctively I recorded what I saw as even the most ordinary details of daily life then were a profound mystery to a curious world. Now these glimpses of what I saw may entertain and educate in some modest way a new generation of youth in China and perhaps be a welcome reminder of the time for those who, like myself, were then enjoying youth, hope, and confidence.
Photography Friday is a regular feature from Shanghaiist in association with Photography of China, Marine Cabos’s fantastic platform about photography and photographers in China.