Between 2011 to 2015, Chinese photographer Shi Yangkun devoted his free time to volunteering as a student photojournalist. With a major in journalism, Shi who realised his passion for photography decided to pursue a graduate degree in photographer at the University of the Arts in London. He is currently working as a freelance photographer in Shanghai.
'Retrotopia' is a project I have been working on for the last few years, in an attempt to understand the connection between the China I live in now and the China my parents had lived decades ago. I did not live in the collective economy and planned economy era, but I always feel connected to that era because my parents used to work in a supply and marketing cooperative, a type of organisation that was created in the planned economy era and still exists after the Reform and Opening Up.
During this process, I talked with many young generations living in the village. For example, I met a young man in his twenties when I was in Nanjie Village. He would have a stable job, stable income and stable source of food from the village every month if he chose to stay in Nanjie Village, although his salary would only be around 2,000 yuan ($300). When young people like him go shopping in a nearby city, they feel desperate due to the stark contrast and often want to leave their hometowns. The young man I talked left Nanjie Village to work in Guangzhou and Beijing; however, he could not get a foothold in either city. He was lost and returned to Nanjie Village, not long after which he ran away again, and ended up swaying back and forth. I totally feel the desperation and pressure faced by young people like him but understand that this is not uncommon at all in China today.
In the summer holiday of 2016, before I graduated from the London College of Communication, I went back to my hometown Shangshui county, Henan province.
I suddenly realised my past memories and the currently realities don’t match. The small town is undergoing a very fast-paced period of development and it’s hard to keep up. Then I came across the word of Solastalgia, as opposed to nostalgia, is loosely defined as the distress felt by an individual when their home environment is under assault, or has changed beyond recognition and does not recall their memories. In short, it is the homesickness one experience when one is still “at home”.
So I decided to photograph my hometown as my final work of graduation. It is a start that I realised I need to find a way to solve my identity crisis in a rapid change time. The people I photographed mostly are my friends or relatives whom I know for a long time.
This project grow from my personal experiences and feelings, I regard it as a documentary-style practise. It constitutes a segment of today’s china where young generations have found themselves delving into memories and refiguring identities in a land that is changing beyong recognition.
If I could associate one song in particular to be the soundtrack of this project, I would choose a Chinese song named 《妈妈的吻》, translated might be as “Mama’s kiss”.
I believe that the starting point of my works is always my personal experience and feelings. If it resonates or connects with the social-cultural issues to some extent, that is what I hope to see.
Describe your photographic works in one word.
What influences your photographic works?
So many factors, if I had to name one it might be my character.
What are you up to these days?
I went back to hometone recently because of the Chinese Spring festival holiday.
Personally, the most hopeful thing in 2023 is to create new works.