A newly released book of photography bridges continents through the lens of a camera.
He is one of the new generation visual artists whose playground is the entire world… Daniel Traub, the award-winning American photographer and documentary filmmaker whose latest book about Africans in China was just released in France. “Little North Road” is a fascinating photographic document bridging two contrasting cultures, quite literally.
If you are interested in photography as an art form, there is a good chance you have seen the Philadelphia native’s work somewhere on the planet. Daniel’s work has been exhibited in Asia, Europe and the United States – including solo exhibitions at such notable places like the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago and the Slought Foundation in Philadelphia – and is also found in public and private collections including the Martin Z. Margulies collection or the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The New York Times Magazine, the London Telegraph Magazine, and TIME Magazine, to name but a few, all featured his œuvres. And in France, he was one of ten photographers selected to participate in the Hyères Photo Festival in 2009.
Daniel’s work is quite unmistakable, striking in composition and colour, with an eye for nuances in complexity…. but even more so for his choice of themes, invariably informed by his bicultural upbringing as the son of a Chinese mother and an American father. To his talent came an excellent formal education in the Fine Arts, and very soon he was steadily engaged with film and photography, working at first more in the journalistic realm but becoming increasingly involved in purely artistic work. Art critic Scott Rothstein said about his fellow artist that “…To the naïve eye, [his] works can seem matter of fact, no more than simple snapshots. Yet, to a perceptive viewer, the images are riveting. In Traub’s works, the subjects reveal their deepest sense of self, captured on film in an instant. It is the subtlest clues that expose them – a physical gesture, the way the person relates to the environment, or even the fit and choice of their clothes.”
In fact, Daniel’s professional biography has some connection with that of his mother’s. An accomplished visual artist herself, it was Lily Yeh who first introduced her young son to the arts and to her social commitment to creating community-based art projects in some of the world’s most troubled areas. That early exposure across borders and social ranks has stuck with Daniel. “Barefoot Artist”, the much-lauded 2008 documentary Daniel made about her artwork became an intimate portrait that reveals her painful past growing up in China.
In 2009, Daniel started scouting for new projects, and found himself in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou. Following China’s dramatic ascent to international economic superstardom, the city has become a magnet for domestic and foreign migrant workers to trade in the goods produced there and in search of other opportunities.
Daniel trained his photographic lens specifically on the neighborhood known as Xiaobeilu (Little North Road). This neighborhood is bisected by a pedestrian bridge that arches over a major road, and – connecting the town centre with an area predominantly inhabited by Africans – serves as a symbolic gateway between continents…here, people come to meet, linger and gaze out onto the city, all the while suspended above the tumult below. At night, the bridge transforms into a frenetic ad hoc market.
Apart from the hustle and bustle on the bridge, the crossroads of two continents also holds great symbolic meaning for Daniel who not only has genetic and cultural ties to China but who is also familiar with Africa through his work in Rwanda, Uganda, and Kenya. Observing the comings and goings from one side of the bridge to the other, and quite fascinated by the way people dressed and carried themselves, Daniel realized that Africans had a particular liking for having their portraits taken. During his wanderings back and forth across the bridge he met two Chinese portrait photographers, Wu Yong Fu and Zeng Xian Fang, who both made a living taking those portraits. The three started working together.
“Wu was doing this purely as a means of survival – he himself was a migrant from a remote part of China – so he would erase the camera’s memory card as soon as it was full. As he had already been here working on the bridge for a couple years, I was saddened by the thought of all the images that had been erased. So I asked him, and later Zeng Xian Fang, who was also working there, if they would be willing to allow me to collect the images and create a kind of archive. To date, they have shared over twenty five thousand of their images with me,” Daniel tells us. In the end, he came to see the project as a collaboration between Wu, Zeng, the subjects of the photographs, and himself. The result is a rare and unique contemporaneous historical documentary at the intersection of two very different cultures.
This very special book of photography has now just been published by Kehrer Verlag under the title “Little North Road”, containing 117 colour plates as well as essays by Barbara Pollack, Roberto Castillo and Daniel Traub. First released in Paris in November 2015, the U.S. launch is scheduled for Spring 2016. Beautifully presented, so well curated and with photography so expressive, it makes you think you are the one standing on that bridge across Little North Road, eternalizing those faces on film.
All photos courtesy Daniel Traub