Daily Life - NOMINEE: ronghui chen
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My project Freezing Land is a series of photos made, on the road, across northeastern China’s countryside that mixes landscape photography with environmental portraits. It is a story about the shrinking cities in northeastern China and their lonely young people.
I grew up in southern China with warm weather, therefore I long for the freezing environment in the north. I’m obsessed with a novel called Tales of Hulan River, which is about the declining northeastern region of China. For years, I couldn’t shake the scenes described in the book, a scene of ice and snow intertwining with peculiar characters. Finally, I got the chance to travel to the northeast for a media assignment. I packed my large format camera and flew to the freezing land I’ve always dreamt of.
The northeast was the wealthiest area in China, bordering Russia and North Korea. With the help of Soviet Union, it developed heavy industries and stayed prosperous for years. This land represented China’s communist roots and authoritarianism. But now, it has become the most recessionary land in China, with shrinking cities and declining population.
Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping started a campaign for the “Chinese Dream.” But what does this mean to the young people living in the northeast, the once prosperous land? What’s the story of today’s northeastern China? I set out to see for myself.
The reason I use an 8x10 larger format camera is mainly for the quality, plasticity, and impression on film, which corresponds to the style of my work. I want to give time to develop both my images and my reflections. Shooting with a large format camera, other than quality, gives me the opportunity to really think about what I’m photographing; what the essence of the story is, and what it means to me.
It is difficult to encounter subjects on the street in an environment of minus 30 degrees centigrade. Therefore, I knocked on doors looking for young people who were willing to share their stories. The young people I chose were experiencing a sense of uncertainty. They were facing a choice to leave for challenges in bigger cities, or stay behind and embrace their fate. Their voices were sparsely documented by Chinese media or through other mediums. Few people knew about their stories.
I photographed environmental portraits for these young people. Their stories are colorful, but also full of loneliness. I photographed the derelict landscape – places that are once lively but now forgotten. During this process, the emotion expressed by these young people – a mixed sense of hesitation, loneliness, and hope – has brought me resonance.
This made me realize that I’m not just photographing the lost “Chinese Dream” on this freezing northeastern land, but also the uncertainty we young people, as individuals, are facing under today’s collectivism in China. At this moment, I pressed the shutter.
Visual Director, Sixth Tone, Shanghai local English-language digital publication January 2017 – present
-lead a 10-member team to produce China-related visual stories on various topics
-manage relationships with media in and outside China
Chief Photojournalist, The Paper, Shanghai local new media outlet June 2015 - January 2017
-travel across China to produce photo essays on topics such as social and environmental issues
-produce multimedia and interactive projects
Photojournalist, Hangzhou Metropolitan Express July 2011 - May 2015
-photograph and write daily life stories of Hangzhou city
Awards, Fellowship & Nominations
Winner, 6th Hou Dengke Documentary Photography Award November 2017
Nominee, Joop Swart Masterclass, World Press Photo February 2017
Nine Chinese Photographers You Need to Follow, Time Magazine Light Box April 2017
Best Photography of the Year, China Photography Museum November 2016
Winner, the Multimedia Project of the Year, Tencent News March 2016
Outstanding Participant, Magnum Photos Workshops in Shanghai September 2015
2nd Prize, Category of Contemporary Issue, 58th World Press Photo February 2015
Best Photography Journalist of 2013, China Photographers Association April 2014
Photograph and Arts Creation Foundation, Sina Photo March 2014
Exhibitions & Lectures
Speaker at New Peak Project conference on photography, Zhejiang University, China November 2017
Exhibited Artist, Lishui Photography Festival, Lishui, China November 2017
Exhibited Artist, China Through Chinese Eyes, Photoville, New York September 2017
Exhibited Artist, Les Rencontres d’Arles, Arles, France September 2017
Exhibited Artist, 2nd Changjiang International Photography and Video Biennale, Chongqing May 2017
Exhibited Artist, Contemporary Photography of Zhejiang at SIPA Gallery, Beijing March 2017
Exhibited Artist, Go East Project, UNDEF/NE, Shanghai February2016
Speaker at Ray Art Center conference on The Lens Facing Reality, Shanghai May 2016
“All The Way North” solo exhibition, IG Art Gallery, Shanghai January 2015
Exhibited Artist, Taipei International Photography Festival, Taipei, Taiwan November 2013
Exhibited Artist, Dali International Photography Festival, Dali, China May 2013
Nanchang University, China September 2007 - June 2011
B. A. in Journalism, with distinction; Minor in Marketing Management