China Underground > China Views > Interview with Photographer Huang Qingjun

Interview with Photographer Huang Qingjun

Huang Qingjun is a Beijing-based freelance photographer. His works show the everyday objects or work tools of Chinese families.

He was born in Daqing, Heilongjiang, China, on September 30, 1971. For the past 26 years, he has been creating photography art. Huang became a member of the China Photographers Association in December of 1998. Steam Locomotive, from 1992 to 2002, and Family Stuff, from 2003 to the present, are two of Huang Qingjun’s most well-known works. Two unique series are Online Shopping Family Stuff and Homeless People’s Family Stuff. Huang has received numerous awards, including the 2020 London International Creation Competition (shortlist), the 2020 10th Annual International Photography Competition, the Florida Museum of Photography Arts (second place), the 2020 Tokyo International Foto Award (TIFA), (Gold), the 2015 China International Press Photo Contest, (Bronze), the 2016 MIFA Moscow International Foto Awards, and many others. These works have also been reported by worldwide media outlets such as the New York Times, Bloomberg, and Wired. Architecture Boston, Business Insider, Chinese National Geography, Discovery Cultural Geographic Monthly, China Daily, Grazia France, and other magazines have featured his work.

Featured image: Liu Jun, 33 years old, Inner Mongolia. Distribution time: 5 days. Time of the first online shopping: 2012. Liu and his family are Mongolian, whose elder generation lived a nomadic and herding life. He settled down in the town of Ulanhot and goes back to the Mongolian yurt every spring and autumn. While living in the yurt, he had to drive 140 kilometers to the town to buy necessities. Since he began to shop online in 2012, he has spent over 30,000 yuan on Taobao, mostly on the necessaries as well. To Liu Jun and his family, the greatest benefit brought by online shopping is its convenience, which saves his time and energy on the rushing road.

Huang Qingjun’s Official site

When and how did you begin your profession as a photographer? Can you tell us about your career’s beginnings? What were the most difficult obstacles you faced throughout that time?

I started my profession as a photographer when I met Photographer Wang Fuchun in 1992. I visited his exhibition in Beijing and saw great works and the possibilities of photography. He was my teacher. I had my first 10 years project about Steam Locomotive, recording the disappearing Steam locomotives running in China (1993-2003). The most difficult obstacle would be the financial situation at that time; freelancers photographer was very difficult to make a living on photographs.

Huang Jianguang, 28 years old, Liuzhou, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. Distribution time: 5 days. Time of the first online shopping: 2007. Huang is an engineer who loves riding and outdoor sports. His mother is of Miao origin, while his father is Han. This mixture is quite common in their homeland. He loves to buy accessories on Taobao and make it up into bicycles himself, one of which was stolen but he soon made another one with accessories bought online. He has spent over 40,000 yuan online, which supports his riding tour of over 50,000 miles across 18 provinces. To him, online shopping gives the biggest support to his hobby. © Huang Qingjun

What are your primary sources of artistic inspiration?

Mainly from society and family.

What are your favorite subjects to photograph?

Make camera lens facing people, record the time, at the same have own expressions.

Li Nian, 26 years old, Beijing. Distribution time: 1 day. Time of the first online shopping: 2007. The very first thing he bought from the internet was a dull of CJ7, which opened a new window in his life. He’s a young entrepreneur born in 1989, and also a model plane enthusiast. He spent over 1,000,000 yuan on this passion. He played with model planes since his childhood, and as a film choreographer major student, he once combined his hobby and major together to make films by unmanned aerial vehicles. He set up an aerial-photographing company in his senior year, painted the drawing himself, and found foundries through Taobao to make hardware and support his aerial filming. To Li, online shopping is much more like a foundation for his career. © Huang Qingjun

Online Shopping Family Stuff. Everyone’s life is being influenced and changed by the internet. According to Chinese official figures, internet sales increased by 49.7% in 2014, compared to a 12% increase in all retail sales across the country. In January 2015, Huang Qingjun invited people to show him everything they’d ever purchased on the internet. Huang wanted to meet people from all over the world: east, west, south, and north, in both big cities and tiny towns. The findings demonstrate the enormous popularity of online purchasing. Internet shopping is a lifeline to the outside world for people living in isolated places, providing access to a wide range of things that would otherwise be unavailable where they live. Delivery employees must occasionally exit their vans to drop off products on foot in some of China’s most inaccessible areas. Huang Qingjun’s Online Shopping Family Stuff series is a sub-series of Family Stuff series of photographs. Huang hopes to use the same approach to show how the Internet is changing people’s lives at this time in history. 

Liu Chunxiao, 43 years old, Tonghua, Jilin Province, near the border of China and North Korea. Distribution time: 5 days. Time of the first online shopping: 2012. Liu was an abroad student with the government sponsorship in 1991, who had lived and worked in Europe for over 20 years, and experienced ups and downs in both studies and business. She began to use Taobao for online shopping since came back to China. More than half of the new products bought from the internet are toys and clothes for her little son. To her, online shopping is a special way to express love. © Huang Qingjun

How did you come up with the idea for “Family Stuff”? How did you organize it? How did you contact the families portrayed in the project? What were the biggest challenges in making “Homeless People’s Family Stuff”?

In 2003 I was asked by China National Geography magazine to find four families from 4 provinces to take their portraits with their belongings, I traveled around by car and finished the task and I began to think to develop this project with a deeper idea. I started looking for more families of different typical social backgrounds and Family Stuff became my long-term project as it is still ongoing. Viewers think I am recording an era. It is so, and in fact, in each photo, there is something that I am trying to show that is related to certain factors: for example the environment, social phenomena, the change in the economy, the change in the habits of life of people and so on … I contacted the families sometimes by random visits, telling them what I was doing, and asking their permission of being photographed. Sometimes I have certain ideas and I looked for sources who can introduce such families or people, then I visited them after communication, and I also had a few volunteer families who wanted me to make their Family Stuff photos. The biggest challenge of making “Homeless People’s Family Stuff” was the language problem, I don’t speak English, so I have to use google translate to communicate.

Mahmoodjan and his wife, 28 years old, Kashgar, Xinjiang Autonomous Region, Distribution time: 5-7 days. Time of the first online shopping: 2006. Mahmoodjan, the only college student in the family with four boys, used to be a foreign language guide, a civil servant, and a volunteer. Since he registered with Taobao in 2006, Mahmoodjan likes to buy some digital products from the internet, such as headsets, Kindle, and USB flash drives. It was 2 days before the expected date of childbirth when we took this picture. © Huang Qingjun

What do you believe photography will look like in the age of social media?

Taking photos is getting easier, so it brings more challenges to professional photographers.

Sun Bin, 31 years old, the Han, Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. Distribution time: 2-3 days, Time of the first online shopping: 2008. Because of his decoration-related vocation, Sun has spent over 550,000 yuan over the past 6 years and become a soft decoration expert gradually. He pays lots of attention to his 126 favorite online stores on Taobao and sets up the habit of checking the new products in the stores. Last December, he finished the decoration of his new house with all the soft decorations bought on Taobao by himself. The TV wall is made up of delicate clocks selected from Taobao, and the types of clocks are still enriching time by time. To him, finding distinctive things on Taobao is a new way to enjoy life. © Huang Qingjun

Is there a particular photography project to which you feel especially attached? Can you tell us about the narrative behind it or any significant events from the past?

Please check my artist statement: Online shopping Family Stuff, created in Jan.2015, this tells the story of how the internet is changing everybody’s life.

What is your next project?

I am doing different sub-series of Family Stuff from 2014, each one tells a more specific theme, next project I plan to make “Family Stuff of Immigrants”. I guess this will be harder, I would appreciate it if there could be any volunteers. 

Jia Yuhao and Lu Xuefeng,30&37 years old. Lhasa, Tibet. Distribution time: 7 days. Time of the first online shopping: 2006, 2005. In May 2011, they resigned from a well-paid job and settled down in Lhasa. They’re running Dhahran inn together here. About 80 percent of the stuff is bought from the internet, including an automatic coffee machine, a doll and Garage Kits themed board game, some outdoor equipment they love, and also sleeping bags on them during our photo shooting. Jia spent over 500,000 yuan on Taobao during the past 9 years, but Lu spent, even more than 860,000 in 10 years. To them, online shopping can help them to achieve themselves. © Huang Qingjun

The Stuffs of Live Streamers. Our outdoor activities have been constrained due to the unexpected epidemic in 2020. During the last two years, people’s everyday lives and spending patterns have altered considerably. We in the post-pandemic period tend to learn about society through our cellphones, making short video streaming rooms a platform for showcasing talent. By the end of 2021, Huang wanted to shoot a new branch of the series, so he turned to Kuaishou for help. Kuaishou is the world’s second-largest live streaming e-commerce platform. Huang obtained permission from live broadcasters with amazing characteristics and shot their stuff with the help of Kuaishou and days of effort to get involved and fitted. A university professor, an actor, a truck driver, activists, a bodyguard, a small company owner, a restaurant deliveryman, an intangible cultural handcrafter, and a streamer for carrier pigeon matches are among the streamers. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic’s impact, Huang was unable to collaborate with other streamers. These works offer a unique viewpoint on the live streaming industry. Streaming rooms have become the epitome for Internet alterations, personal success, productivity growth, and expenditure upgrades as IT technology advances and allows us more room and flexibility to choose from. Meanwhile, the ‘Fellowship,’ which stems from streaming rooms, distributes spiritual belongings to its members. Our attention to their stuff and living tools reflects the changes and progress of our times. 

Zhang Meili the Bodyguard. There are few bodyguards streaming in Kuaishou. When it comes to female bodyguards, Zhang Meili is merely the only one who does live-streaming. During her first live-streaming experience, Zhang simply read what she has previously written on an A4 paper. She found her tone to be stiff and the result to be not good enough. As her live-streaming experience gradually accumulates, she has learned to relax and finally got used to living streaming. Apart from her daily routine as a female bodyguard, she also shares some self-protection skills with her female audience. Zhang would take some time to watch other streams every day after dinner so that she can learn how other streamers get engaged with the atmosphere. This 21-year-old young girl is not only eager to learn but also determined. She fought against a male trainee the very first day that she came to learn bodyguarding in Beijing. She lost that combat, yet she would never lose to anyone now. © Huang Qingjun
Tian Bin the Comedian. 25 years old, from Renjiazhuang, Juxian, Shandong Province. Streaming room: His storage room at home Room area: 40 ㎡. The most important ‘stuff’ for streaming: His desk for streaming—an old-fashioned classroom desk. Tian Rongguo is a young lad from Shandong Province. Influenced by Stephen Chow’s comedies, he has been dreaming of becoming an actor from a young age. When he grows up, he has tried various occupations: Worker, barber, comedy writer, short video maker, and live streamer. However, none of these jobs helped the youngblood realize his comeback dream until he came across a meme on the Internet in July 2021. With the help of the meme, Tian acquires 7 million followers and becomes famous overnight. Tian claimed himself to be ‘Tian Bin the mentor’, a funny figure dressed in a grey long shirt and ragged straw hat. Moreover, there are so many hidden treasures in his streaming room: Fake gold chains, binoculars without lenses, a fake diamond ring made of glass, a broken mirror, two cardboard boxes to get his phone fixed, and loop lamps set up on twisted wooden shelves. These strange funny figures provide him with a chance to change his destiny. © Huang Qingjun
Naughty Bunny·Carrier Pigeon·Positive Energy. 35 years old, from Tianjin Streaming room: Outdoor. Room Area: As far as the sky holds. The most important ‘stuff’ for streaming: Her sunglasses for outdoor streaming. Quan Rui’s ‘stuff’ for photographic lighting and shooting would amaze any photographer for their professional standard. Her career requires her to be highly professional. Apart from commenting on matches nationwide, she also shows carrier pigeons from a professional perspective and shares her knowledge with her followers. Sometimes she needs to do e-business live streaming indoors, professional devices are essential. Quan worked as an ordinary IT business staff 10 years ago, she devoted herself to her current career after discovering the vacuum of the carrier pigeon business online. With 420k followers, she has become the head streamer of the carrier pigeon business, a niche nowadays. Waiting for carrier pigeons to return home would be the most fascinating moment for Quan: Breaking through storm and dark clouds, the homing pigeons return before nightfall. She chooses the word ‘wait’ to define the relationship between pigeons and their owners. As she says, watching pigeons flying brings a breeze to her mind and rids her of any disturbance. © Huang Qingjun
Lao San the Trekker. 40 years old, from Cangzhou, Hebei Province. Streaming room: His truck driving room Room area: 2.5 ㎡. The most important ‘stuff’ for streaming: His truck. Lao San has been a truck driver for nearly 20 years. With a remarkable driving record of 3 million kilometers, Lao San has traveled across every province of China, no wonder he credits himself as a ‘trekker’. When he began his live-streaming career in Kuaishou, he surprisingly found that it is much more convenient and straightforward to convey professional ideas for trucks by live streaming. Up to now, Lao San has more than 700k followers on Kuaishou, whilst 70% of them are truck drivers. Trucks and driving topics are always the favorite topics of his live-streaming room. As his passion shows, Lao San’s ‘stuff’ are either for trucks or live streaming. As the new year is coming, Lao San hopes to add a Dajiang aircraft to his personal ‘treasure’, so that he could promote his live-streaming career——yet he certainly needs to get permission from his wife first. © Huang Qingjun
Dr. Dai’s Laboratory. 64 years old, from Birmingham, UK. Streaming room: His laboratory for science popularization at Beijing University of Chemical Technology. Room area: 100 ㎡. The most important ‘stuff’ for streaming: The video recorder and cassettes that he used to learn Mandarin three decades ago. David G. Evans was born in Birmingham, yet his ancestral home is in Wales. Besides, he is a big fan of Welsh football and therefore he claims himself to be a Welsh. When he came to China for the first time in 1987, the train from Beijing to Guiyang took him 33 hours, whilst the same route only takes 8 or 9 hours by high-speed train now. After returning to the UK, he found the railway system there was slow as usual. David persuaded his friends to come to China: ‘Please do come to China! Their high-speed trains are magnificent!’ David is a Professor of Chemistry at the Beijing University of Chemical Technology, he started science popularization in 2011 and he got to know Kuaishou in 2018. From then on, he has begun to popularize science by uploading short videos in Kuaishou. Up to now, he has almost 10 million followers. David says, ‘Shooting short videos is another type of chemical experiment. Conveying interest and knowledge is important. It requires effort to find those in need rather than wait passively. Kuaishou gives me the chance to know people that I cannot meet in ordinary life. © Huang Qingjun

Photo courtesy of Huang Qingjun

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