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[Photography – Art] Little North Road – 小北路: exploring the social life and economies of a pedestrian bridge in Guangzhou

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Little North Road is a photographic exploration of the people and activities found on a pedestrian bridge in an ethnically diverse quarter of Guangzhou, China. Guangzhou has become a magnet for internal Chinese migrants, Middle Easterners and Africans who have come in search of opportunity and to trade in the goods produced in the Pearl River Delta – “the world’s factory.”

In recent years, the bridge, which arches over a major road bisecting the area, functioned as vibrant public space with dual roles. By day, people came to meet, linger, and gaze out onto the city, all the while suspended above the tumult below. At night, the bridge transformed into a frenetic outdoor market which brought foreigners and Chinese migrants together.

Since late 2014, however, following the Ebola crisis, the number of foreigners, particularly those from Africa, has decreased substantially, and due to police presence, entrepreneurial activity on the bridge has diminished. In certain respects, the life on the bridge, can be seen as an index, reflecting not only China’s changes but also Beijing’s shifting attitude towards these migrant populations and the informal economies that they engender.

The book will include Daniel Traub’s photographs taken on the bridge and surrounding area between 2010-2014. Additionally, it will incorporate a selection of images collected from two Chinese itinerant portrait photographers that Traub encountered on the bridge: Zeng Xian Fang and Wu Yong Fu. Equipped with digital cameras, these two photographers have made a living offering their services to passersby, primarily Africans, who wanted a souvenir of their time in Guangzhou. As they were producing the images solely as a means of survival, they would delete them at the end of each day. Since 2011, however, Traub has been collecting the images and creating an archive that now numbers over 20,000.

As China’s power and reach have grown, it has become a new center of gravity pulling people from remote lands. The bridge has been, in a sense, a symbolic gateway for this flow of people. Recent developments, however, call into question whether this cosmopolitanism is an inevitable part of China’s future or if it represents a moment that has already passed.

The book will contain approximately 150 color plates, and essays by Barbara Pollack, Roberto Castillo and Daniel Traub. The book will be edited by Robert Pledge and Daniel Traub and designed by Masumi Shibata. It is scheduled to be published by Kehrer Verlag in November 2015 in Europe and Spring 2016 in the US.

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