Zhang Xiao created They series in over 3 years from 2006-2008 during his time working as a photojournalist in Chongqing city. Chongqing, as the largest and fastest growing city in China, probably represents the most extreme example of urbanization and rapid development in the country. Zhang photographed the people he encountered on his daily travels around the city. The characters in They are the ordinary people in real life – they carry out all kinds of mundane activities in public venues. In Zhang’s images, these ordinary people become the protagonists in the scenes they occupy, often seemingly departing from reality and entering a performance state. These images perhaps reveal some loss of balance and normality caused by the rapid development of modern Chinese society.
“Each of them has their own ordinary life … yet in the images they appear bizarre and absurd, as if they belong to another planet and are completely unique,” Zhang Xiao said.
Apart from its documentary nature, They also reflects the artist’s strong subjective point of view about contemporary life in China: kitschy, absurd, surreal and humorous.
Zhang used a basic, low technology Holga camera and expired films to photograph They, his choice of equipment enhances his expectation and imagination during the making, and increases the instability and uncertainty of the visual quality of the images. The effects of aberration and vignetting lead the viewers into a dreamy state, in Zhang’s words,
This is not a real world… In a moment, they surpass themselves in reality just like sleepwalking.”
They, published by Jiazazhi press in December 2012 as Clothbound Hardcover (64 pages, 54 color photos, 18.5 x 26cm) is available as a signed, limited edition of 500.
Zhang Xiao, (b.1981) Born in Yantai, Shandong Province, China, graduated from the Yantai University, Art Design of Architecture Department. He was a photographer for the Chongqing Morning Post and is now a freelance photographer based in Chengdu, Sichuan Province, China.
Awards he has received for his photography include:
„Coastline“, Houdengke Document Photography Award, China,
„They“, Three Shadows Photography Award, China,
„Coastline“, The PRIX HSBC POUR LA PHOTOGRAPHIE, France,
„Shanxi“, MIO Photo Award, Japan.
He has participated in numerous exhibitions internationally including:
„Shanxi“, FORMAT International Photography Festival, Derby, UK,
„They“, Contemporary Chinese Photography, Katonah Museum of Art, New York, US,
„Coastline“, Galerie Baudoin Lebon, Paris, France,
„Subdue”, Dali International Photography Festival, Yunnan, China,
„Coastline”, Blindspot Gallery, Hong Kong.
To see more of Zhang Xiao’s work, please visit
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Zhang Xiao was also one of the featured artists in ACMV’s Projection Programme “Artist as Curator – Spectacle in Photography” at Belfast Photo Festival 2013.