Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Elizabeth Heyert: The Outsider

I love the concept of this book and do think it an excellent idea to photograph people who take photographs of other people – and felt instant sympathy when glancing through the pages of this tome. Very probably because I have taken such pictures myself. And also, because these photographs show the ones portrayed as actors on a stage.

In 2014, Elizabeth Heyert, who lives and works in New York, started to photograph the Chinese taking photographs of each other. „They shoot incessantly, often with family members looking on and directing, and with an intimacy with their environment that borders on stagecraft.“

She traveled to Beijing, Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou, „often wading through enormous crowds to uncover private moments between people who were strangers to me.“ Unable to speak Chinese, she remains an outsider, a spectator. In her words: „I call the project The Outsider because as a Westerner in the East, and a stranger in a foreign culture searching for authenticity, I allowed myself to be a spectator of the photographer/subject relationship.“

Part of being attracted to this book results from the fact that I myself have once been (in 2002, as a teacher of English) a stranger in this foreign Chinese culture, albeit not searching for authenticity (also: the idea of searching for authenticity via photographs has so far never occurred to me) but missing the possibility to communicate with words. Being unable to verbally communicate while being amongst the Chinese often felt like visiting a zoo – which, needless to say, can be fascinating, on both sides. I particularly remember Chinese children who stared and cheered at me up in the mountains of Fujian Province – as strange and fascinating as they seemed to me, as strange and fascinating I must have seemed to them.

For the full review, please go here

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