Daniel Traub’s fascinating multimedia (and multi-collaborative) project on African presence in a neighbourhood in Guangzhou offers a great opportunity to look into one of least discussed angles of ‘Africans in China’: multiethnic relations and how is the arrival of Africans in the country impacting on the lives of many Chinese internal migrants.
Traub is an American photographer that for more than 10 years has been engaged in several photographic projects in China. For this particular project, ‘Xiaobeilu‘ (小北路) – at this stage still a work-in-progress – Traub mixes his filming with several images he has collected from a group of Chinese migrant-worker/photographers that work in Xiaobeilu and that he came across with during one of his photographic trips. The projects’ main location is a bridge that connects the urban village of Dengfeng 登峰村 (a site of intense multiethnic/transnational interaction – unique in contemporary China) with both the more modern district of Xiaobei, where Tianxiu Building 天秀大厦 is located (the place where foreign presence in the area started / informally known as Yemen, Dubai, and/or Africa Tower), and with the more Muslim-Arab-Turkish sector on the southeastern side of Huanshi Middle Rd (环市中路).
From Traub’s website we learn:
In 2010, while photographing on the bridge, I came across a group of Chinese men and women with digital point and shoot cameras selling their services as photographers to Africans who were passing by on the bridge. The Africans would hire them to make a portrait for 10 RMB ($1.50), which the Chinese photographers would then print out on a portable printer. They were essentially Chinese migrant workers, trying to cash in on the Africans who might want a souvenir of their time in China. I approached one of them, Zeng Xian Fang, to have a look at the photographs and found them compelling. There was a sense of self-portraiture in the images, as if the Africans were in conversation with themselves and the people who would see the images back home. There was also something reminiscent of African traditions in portrait photography. Because Zeng was taking the photographs purely as a means of survival, he would erase the camera’s memory cards at the end of each day. So I asked Zeng, and later another photographer Wu Yong Fu, if they would be willing to allow me to collect the images and put them together in book form. They agreed so I bought them both portable hard drives. To date, I have collected over 10 thousand of their images.
The short film below, a work-in-progress part of a wider piece, is a wonderful opportunity not only to look into the everyday spaces and moments of the many passers-by in Traub’s bridge but also to have a look at how is African presence in China impacting/transforming the lives of many Chinese. Check out this article on Traub’s project. For more on Daniel’s work go to his website: www.danieltraub.net