15 Questions With… Chen Ronghui

Colorful fake trees planted by the government on the Yichun River, which is typically frozen during the entire winter in Yichun, Heilongjiang, China, December 2016.

How are you at the moment?

I just finished my final critique. It’s good to be alive.

What is your morning ritual? How does your day begin?

Making breakfast is the most important thing, no matter what it is. I get up very early and cook breakfast for my family. Having a good breakfast with my family is the happiest thing.

What, right now, can you see?

A cup of coffee, a CD player, and some books.

Lin Zi, 14, sits in a café where internet celebrities live stream their performances online in Fularji, Heilongjiang, China, February 2017. After dropping out of school, Zhi began performing on the Chinese Internet and has almost a million fans today. “My parents abandoned me, and I make money by doing drag shows on a live streaming app.”

What artist, project, book would you recommend we see/follow?

Ruben Lundgren & Matjaz Tancic╱Wow Taobao. Taobao.com is one of the top 10 most visited websites in the world. The e-commerce platform owned by Alibaba serves consumer-to-consumer businesses all over China and Chinese-speaking regions. The great variety of sellers and limited amount of cash spent on photography, make it a Valhalla for those enjoying the genre of “useful photography”. For this sticker album project photographers Ruben Lundgren and Matjaž Tančič have selected the best photographs showcasing the variety of products out of their collection of more than 1000 photographs collected over years. The album highlights many fascinating, artistic, inventive and surprising products shot in a witty way.

Tell us about your process when starting a new project

Seeing, observing, and thinking. I learned this from an interview with August Sander.

A group of students who are about to take the art exam stand in front of the city’s promotion posters. Fushun, February 2018.

What has been your favourite collaboration?

When I was making my first photo book Freezing Land, most of them were people I knew well, from editing to designing. But it was only the first time I worked with a printer. There are many such workers in Chinese printing houses, but they are very serious. I learned a lot about printing from the printer.

What is your greatest achievement? 

Since I started attending Yale last year, I have started to publish my journal on Chinese social media. My journal is about my thoughts on contemporary photography and the knowledge I gained at Yale. I’ve written about 300,000 words in this series.

What is your greatest regret?

A little too much. I don’t even know where to start.

What advice would you give to your younger self? 

Don’t be afraid of change. Change brings more possibilities.

A mirror leans against a wall covered with Korean carpets in Longjing, Jilin, China, February 2017.

What is your latest project about?

I’m working on a project about plant hunters. Frank Meyer, an American plant hunter, took more than 2,000 plants from China more than 100 years ago. There is a very good cooking Meyer lemon named after him. I have always been interested in the relationship between China and the United States that lies beneath the surface.

What are you researching at the moment?

I’m looking for plants from China to America, many of which have disappeared even in China.

What can you not work without?

Music.

What challenges have you faced working in your industry?

When I came to the United States from China last year, I realized that there are a lot of stereotypes about Chinese photography. For a long time, when we talked about Chinese photography, our focus was always on the subject, about politics, about human rights. Chinese photographers’ exploration of photographic media language has received little attention.

What are you hoping for in 2021?

I hope I can be a good father, a good husband and a good son.

Share a song with us, what are you listening to at the moment?

INTERSTELLAR Soundtrack – 02. Cornfield Chase

Chen Ronghui, Freezing Land (Jiazazhi Press, 2020), is available to purchase here.