Strangers. An interview with Jiwei Han
In my heart I love to know strangers, communicate with strangers, or to have some kind of relationship with strangers. I think this project is based on the innermost expectation of connection with strangers. But in Beijing's undergrounds, people are crowded together exaggeratedly, shoulder by shoulder, face to face. A girl's long hair can touch my face when she swings her head, I can smell the fragrance of the shampoo she used.

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Perhaps the distance between my face and a stranger's face is no more than 20cm, in these conditions people won't look at you any more or even give you a quick glance. So, between myself and strangers, we have physical contact, but in our hearts, we are living on different planets.

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And 'Strangers' is a comment about this... but for this project I didn't want to continue taking still photos on the metro because too many good photographers have done many great works. In Beijing, Chinese photographers have been taking photos in Beijing's undergrounds for more than ten years, so I thought I needed to change the way to show this topic and I started shooting short videos with my iPhone.

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On the street I use small camera with a flash, a more like Bruce Gilden's way, I admire him....but I don't have his life experiences, so sometimes when I do this project, I have strong desire to say sorry to people...sorry for any offence, aggression, any hurt to innocent people who just walk on streets.


I am reminded of Susan Sontag's words in her book 'On Photography' -- "To photograph people is to violate them.". I think to myself, 'she's right'. It doesn't matter if people give you permission or not, if you take photos of them, you will take something away from them. Perhaps faces, bodies, the environment around people or something. Many times I have no self-confidence because I'm always worrying... do I know these people very well? Do my pictures show who he/she is? Do my pictures can show what I am thinking about him/her?


I am a street photographer and l spend lots of time on the street taking photos. Usually, I ask people's permission before taking photos if I see a person, or a group, who interest me. I think, a few years ago, people's attitudes were very friendly and they generally accepted my request. But now, 90% of people will reject my requests on the street without any reasons, they just say "No" with actions of turning their head away or using their hand to cover their face.


So I thought perhaps I can focus only on this moment for a photographic project. Perhaps I can capture a strange moment or a strange thing - where, as a photographer, there's something I want to have from people who don't want to give it and who are trying to protect it. And so the project "No" was born.



Although ironically, my career started with a "yes" when I asked a beautiful woman to go out with me and she was 2004.... I had just graduated from my university, and at that time, I met my girlfriend ( now, she is my wife). In order to record our first date I borrowed a DC from my friend and took the 1st picture in my life. Before, I had never thought about photography, never even touched a camera. And I found that photography's an interesting thing, it could allow me to see something that normally I ignored. Although at the beginning of my studies, like many beginners, I took photos of followers, trees, landscapes, people and so on. But as my understanding about photography became more in-depth, I realized what I really care about, in my heart, via my camera, it's about people who surround me, about our life. It's like, everyone has their own secrets and the viewfinder could help me to find out people's secrets, could help me to understand our life, not only in personal view, but also under the knowledge of society, history, culture.....


I think it's unlike writing, where you can describe a person from your imagine without having known them... but to photograph people, you need to know him/her through conversation or in other ways, and need to stay with him/her for a long time in order to know who he/she is, to let both understand each other. I think this is a way to reveal the secret... I think you street photography gives me that.... I think so... but perphaps more on the level of social life, the secrets of the society and less on the personal... where the individual people form part of the tapestry of the bigger picture.


Jiwei Han was in conversation with Ali Lochhead.