“Photography has a special ability to record the spiritual as well as the material aspects of our lives. This is the motive of my work.”
Born Kaifeng, Henan, 1953
Whether his subjects are orphans, peasants or musicians, Jiang Jian’s photographs bespeak an abiding affection for the common folk of China. He grew up in a remote village to which his family was banished for infractions against Party discipline, and had never seen a camera until he was assigned to a national research project on folk art. Inspired by August Sander, who set out to compile a portrait of the German people, Jiang Jian resolved to focus his lens on the commoners of China. When he learned of a charity’s plan to support 1000 orphans until they reached adulthood, he volunteered to photograph them all. The result was The Orphan Files (2004), in which the children are captured alone and without possessions. Pairing their monochrome images with colour snaps of their identity documents underlines the orphans’ insignificance; the floorless black backdrops emphasise their lack of context or support. Yet despite the bleak uniformity of the settings and of the papers that confirm their existence, each child appears as a unique individual whose personality shines from the gloom.