Beijing confidential with Anton Hazewinkel

Travel | by Anton Hazewinkel
Posted: June 8th, 2011 | Updated: January 11th, 2012 | Comments
China Photography_travel photography_chinese culture_chinese landscapes Beijing, Mr. Yang's bird shop_Anton hazewinkel We first encountered Dutchman Anton Hazewinkel's work when he made it through to the final round of the Ctrip China Travel Photo Contest earlier this year. We were impressed with what we saw and excited to hear about his upcoming project that would deliver an incredibly personal insight into the lives of everyday men and women in his adopted home of Beijing, a project that is now well underway and can be viewed at Chinesense and his Anton Hazewinkel website. Here Anton takes some time out to talk us through some of the street images, portraits and award-winning panoramic photographs that make up this fascinating collection.>>> I came to Beijing in 2005, originally as part of a call center business that I established and ran with a partner, offering support to delegations of sponsors before and during the Beijing Olympics. Back in the 80s I'd studied arts, video and photography and when the Olympics came to an end I set up a small photo retouching company, Pictorescue—after 20 years as a businessman I was finally returning to my roots and was soon focused on what I really wanted to do: become a photographer again. I like both candid street photography and creating documentary style portraits. In the candid photos, capturing a moment of intimacy, juxtaposition or just a composition of graphic elements is enough but in my documentary photos I also try to communicate something about China and about daily life in Beijing. Beijing Chaoyang park, Wedding photography China In my documentary photos I try to give individuals their own space and show their personality; their pride, needs, worries, desires and values, usually without comment. The stories behind each photo are based on interviews or other observations... unfortunately I'm not a writer so I am always looking for writers to cooperate for editing or writing short stories based on photographic impressions. In my panoramic series, I portray a janitor, a scientist, a student or an abbot, each with the same dignity. I sometimes even retouch faces to get rid of the less flattering marks. I usually shoot with a 24-70mm lens or a 50mm at night. It forces me to get close to subjects and really become part of a scene. Beijing, Mr. Yuan's meeting room_Anton Hazewinkel Above: "Mr. Yuan is the abbot of the Taoist DongYue temple in Beijing. His favorite activities are reading, writing and thinking. He thinks young people are too self-centered these days. People should try to strengthen social values by contributing to society." A few of these photos are on my blog with interviews and more will follow. The photos in this series are huge because the panoramas are 360 degrees. It takes me almost a week to stitch together one panoramic photo out of 15 or 20 shots. I've printed them in a 3-meter wide format to make all details visible. The series has been nominated and awarded this year in competitions like the Sony World Photography Award and the Epson Pano Awards and they are are currently on display in the Czech Republic as part of their annual photography award exhibition. Next year I'll have a display in the Netherlands, my first solo exhibition in an art gallery in 25 years. I'll probably try to hold an exhibition in Beijing before that—it would feel better to begin in the city that is giving me so much to shoot and write about. Beijing, Mr. Chen's workplace Above:  "Mr. Chen (52) is a janitor at a depot for public buses in Beijing. He thinks a person can live well everywhere with lots of money, but can only live happy without money in his hometown." I think what drives me most in making portraits is that it satisfies my personal curiosity about what people think and how they feel in this country that has been my home for more than six years now. It gives me the chance to meet and talk to people I would never have met otherwise and even better, some of them have become friends and we still see each other regularly. Beijing Mr yang_anton hazewinkel I speak enough Chinese to conduct (very) basic interviews, but I prefer to work with a translation assistant. I've found people to be  more open (or less suspicious) when there are two of us and my assistant can explain better that I'm not a reporter, something that could cause them problems in the future. We always ask for their QQ address (amazingly everybody has one) and send them the photos afterwards, which is always much-appreciated. Beijng: Dong Nan

What also drives me is that I like to share basic information about daily life in China with others—about the housing market, the salary of a shop assistant, problems with food safety or simply the price of clothes (we ask people on the street and create a series with the running theme of "street fashion"). Or stories about how to become a professional wedding host, about a boy's dream to become an NBA star and of course, the obligatory theme for foreign photographers: disappearing hutong where I am interested in the conflict found in our own minds of nostalgia vs. improved living conditions, or I present it from the perspective of an unemployed family.

I'll often ask questions related to people's income and though many people have no problem telling how much they earn, "how much do you spend on food every day" feels less offensive and also indicates their living standard. To contextualize there is a page in my blog that explains "How much is 1 RMB?" including the exchange rate, the official Chinese poverty level and the minimum wage in Beijing.

Beijing, Mr. Guo Jun_Anton Hazewinkel

Above: "Mr. Guo is a photographer. He mainly shoots portraits for official documents. Next to the photography he makes a living with laundry services (the shop next door) and selling ice cream."

Another recurring theme encountered is the hundreds of millions of people that work far away from their hometown. Not only migrant workers, but also those with better paid jobs who have left their homes and their parents—though this may not be that unusual for a US citizen, most Europeans are used to living fairly close to relatives and old friends. We often ask questions about people's hometowns which then inspired me to start a series of photo montages about displacement. Displaced_Anton Hazewinkel All photos © Anton Hazewinkel For more of Anton's beautiful photography and the stirring tales that accompany them, head to Chinesense and meet the diverse slice of Chinese life that he has captured through his lens.
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