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Beijing Silvermine и Silvermine report part 1

Beijing Silvermine started in May 2009 out of my meeting with a man called Xiaoma, who works in a recycling zone north of town, where part of the city’s garbage ends up. Over there, some specialize in plastics, some in beer bottle caps, but he solely concentrates on trash containing silver nitrate, which essentially means hospital x-rays, cd-roms, but also negative film. Before drowning it all in a big pool of acid in order to collect this precious silver, he agreed to sell me negative film by the kilo, and that’s how the Beijing Silvermine project was born.

Ever since, I have been repeating this collecting process every month, and the archive now counts a little more than half a million negatives. These rice bags filled with thousands of rolls of slobbery, stinky, dusty, scratched, crumpled and humid negative film, have allowed me to access a highly codified visual universe, where the subject is always standing up straight at the center of the image, looking into the objective. In these photos, there is a paradox between this total absence of spontaneity on one hand, and on the other hand the inherent complicity between the photographer and the photographed; in China taking pictures is always a ritual, it always involves posing and necessarily consent. The results are these unpretentious, often quite funny, and undoubtedly endearing images.

Beijing Silvermine is a unique photographic portrait of the capital and the life of its inhabitants following the Cultural Revolution. It covers a period of 20 years, from 1985, namely when silver film started being used massively in China, to 2005, when digital photography started taking over. These 20 years are those of China’s economic opening, when people started prospering, travelling, consuming, having fun.

by Thomas Sauvin – The Archive of Modern Conflict