THE OUTSIDER is a series of photographs of people in China creating portraits of each other.
“As a foreigner in China, I struggled to find a way to create portraits there with any degree of authenticity. I know very little about the experiences of the Chinese people and don’t speak their language. I felt reluctant to impose my Western view on another culture, like so many of the 19th and early 20th century photographers did on their first visits East. I decided to observe and photograph people taking photographs of each other. That would be my way in. After having so much control in the studio where I usually work with an 8 x 10 view camera, working on the street with a hand held camera felt liberating. No one paid any attention to me so I wandered through massive crowds of people and waited for an intimate moment. I never spoke to anyone. I felt invisible, like an unseen ghost. I call the project, THE OUTSIDER because I was on the outside both as a stranger in unfamiliar physical and emotional territory, and also as a photographer. It’s not so much the inverse of what I’ve done in the past but that I am giving up my role as part of the photographer/subject relationship.
The rituals of the Chinese amateur photographers fascinated me. They shoot incessantly, often with family members looking on and directing, and with an intimacy with their environment and with each other that seems unique to the Chinese. Their obsession makes perfect sense. Very few Chinese possess family photographs from the past. During the Cultural Revolution, family albums were destroyed, either by the Red Guards, or by the families themselves who were wary of appearing bourgeois. The photographs the Chinese create now, the seemingly endless pictures of friends, family, and of moments together, may be making up for what was once lost.”
The photographs were taken with a Leica MP and Kodak Tri-X film, which Heyert brought with her to China as film is no longer sold there, using available light. The final prints are 16 x 8 inches (40.64 x 20.32 cm) gelatin silver on Ilford paper in an edition of 10 each.