Since 2009, the French collector and artist Thomas Sauvin has embarked on an unusual adventure: salvaging discarded negatives from a recycling plant on the edge of Beijing that were destined to destruction. Undertaking one of the largest and most important archival projects in China, he buys by the kilo, taking away rice bags filled with thousands or rolls of slobbery, dusty and scratched negative film. Once closely examined, images are consistently selected, digitized, and classified. Today it encompasses over half a million of anonymous photographs spanning the period from 1895 to 2005, reconstructing then a large part of the history of popular analogue photography in China. This coherent and unceasingly evolving archive allows us to apprehend negatives in different ways. It constitutes a visual platform for cross-cultural interactions, while impacting on our collective memory of the recent past.
Beijing Silvermine is a treasure trove of incongruous and mundane images, which all belong to this large collection. Showing China’s changing face, these snapshots taken by Chinese amateurs defy easy categorization. They are intriguing, unpretentious, and amusing to a certain extent. If some pictures unveil a certain complicity between the photographer and the person being photographed, most tell not individual stories but something more universal.
In tandem with the compilation of this archive, Sauvin has developed a vivid editorial activity. He has already to his credit several monographs, including “Beijing Silvermine” a set of limited editions albums photographs that was shortlisted for the Paris Photo Aperture Foundation First Photobook Award (2013), and “Until Death Do Us Part” selected by renowned English photographer Martin Parr as one of the Best Photobooks of the Year for The British Journal of Photography (2015).
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