THE southern Chinese city of Guangzhou is located on the Pearl River Delta, which has come to be known as “the workshop of the world,” accounting for one third of the goods China exports.
Tens of thousands of people from the Middle East, Africa and other parts of China, have migrated to Guangzhou to trade in the goods produced there and in search of other opportunities. In fact, in just 10 years, some 200,000 Africans migrated to this city.
In Guangzhou, there is a neighbourhood known as Xiaobeilu - Little North Road in English. Since 2009, Daniel Traub, a photographer and filmmaker, has been taking pictures of the neighbourhood and found himself drawn to a pedestrian bridge that arches over a major road bisecting the neighbourhood. The bridge functions as a key public space for the quarter. Here, people come to meet, linger and gaze out onto the city during the day, and at night the bridge transforms into a frenetic ad hoc market.
One day, while Daniel was photographing there, he came across a young Chinese man, with a digital camera holding a placard with various photographic portraits. As people passed by on the bridge, he would sidle up beside them and ask if they would like their picture taken. After he took the photograph, he would use a portable printer to make an 8x10 print and charge about $1.50. Daniel introduced himself to him and asked if he could look at some of the images. He was captivated.
While there were photographs of Chinese and Middle Easterners, the majority of the images were of Africans. Wu Yong Fu, the Chinese photographer, explained to Daniel that the Africans in particular seemed the most interested in being photographed. Many of the images were of the women who came to China to buy clothing and textiles.
They liked to be photographed wearing the goods they had purchased and to have the modern high-rises of China in the background. There were also men who came to buy electronics and industrial products, who wanted a souvenir of their time in China. Wu explained that “[Africans] mostly come to China to pick up the products. Chinese goods are cheap. Industries in Africa [are] a little undeveloped, so some pedlars come to China to import products. Chinese products are cheap. They come here every two or three months.”
Other images, however, were of people who had come to China to seek opportunity and a better life. The photographs, perhaps, were taken to mark a new beginning. Something that Wu welcomes. He said that “I [get] along well with most [Africans]. It depends on individuals but it was mostly good. Most of them were nice and friendly. I was nice to them, too. I had good impressions. I welcome them. Many Africans married Chinese women. It’s all good.”
Because Wu was doing this purely as a means of survival – he himself was a migrant from a remote part of China – 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 of years, Daniel was saddened by the thought of all the images that had already been erased. So asked him, and later another photographer Zeng Xian Fang, who was also working there, if they would be willing to allow Daniel to collect the images and create a kind of archive. To date, they have shared over ten thousand of their images with Daniel.
The resulting project - a collaboration between Wu and Zeng, the subjects of the photographs and Daniel. “Little North Road” has now become a photography and a film project about the people and activities found on a pedestrian bridge in Guangzhou, providing a unique and intimate glimpse into a world that would not have otherwise been seen.
Daniel says he hopes that an institution of some kind might be interested in acquiring the archive for their collection and making it accessible to researchers and the public.
All images attributed to Wu Yong Fu, Zeng Xian Fang and Daniel Traub, courtesy of Daniel Traub