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Images of Chinese Migrant Workers in Foreign Artist's Lens
    2008-06-21 21:14:58     CRIENGLISH.com

Helen Couchman and her book Workers

[Photo source: CRIENGLISH.com]

In December 2007, during her second extended visit to Beijing, Helen Couchman photographed a large group of migrant workers building venues for the Olympic Games. She published the photos in a book entitled "Workers."

"I think it's a historical moment for this country, so the people participating make the thing happen. People who are central to the happening should have a record and be sort of proud of what they've done."

"Workers" is Couchman's first published book. As her subjects, the English photographer chose the migrant laborers who built the National Stadium, or Bird's Nest, and the Water Cube, the two grandest venues of the upcoming Beijing Olympics.

There are 143 portraits in her book. She asked each worker to stand in roughly the same spot with the Olympic stadium and swimming venue clearly in view behind them. Each worker looks calmly, confidently and directly into Helen's lens.

An important feature of these photographs is that, irrespective of their archival value, they were taken without the approval of local authorities. Helen simply asked the workers themselves if they would let her photograph them. She did not introduce herself, nor did she know whether her Chinese was good enough to communicate with them. To her surprise, the workers' responses were very positive.

Couchman talks about what impressed her the most when she took the photos.

"I was really taken by their enthusiasm. I really enjoyed the positivity. Something interesting for me was I knew that handwriting is important in China, but I didn't realize in a way how important. People took great pride in writing their addresses and names beautifully. And they felt their handwriting wasn't good enough. They had conversations with friends who they thought could write them well and asked them to write for them."

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