This is an extended edit of the overwhelming portrait/documentary series that was named winner of the Open Category, Mini-Series in the LensCulture Visual Storytelling Awards 2015. Discover more inspiring work from all of the winners and finalists.
Yiwu is a city in the Zhejiang province of China, south of Shanghai. It hosts “China Commodities City,” famous for being the largest small commodity wholesale market in the world.
Thousands of stalls like the ones pictured here exhibit multiple and slight variations on a particular item. Each individual seller occupies a space overwhelmed by the very items that make them their living. They sell orders by the thousands to be exported across complex logistics networks, disseminated to a world of dispersed consumers.
This collection of portraits represents just a fraction of the series as a whole, and less than 0.1% of Yiwu’s stalls in total. These images become analogous to the relentless production of the consumer items themselves, and extend the idea of the “photo project” beyond a collection of individual images and into a conceptual artwork in its entirety. I hope to raise questions about the nature of value, economies of scale, and human labour.
Artist’s note: This project was done in collaboration with The Unknown Fields Division, a nomadic design studio, run by Kate Davies and Liam Young. Their work ventures out on expeditions to the ends of the earth to explore peripheral landscapes, industrial ecologies and precarious wilderness. These distant landscapes—running from the iconic and the ignored to the excavated, irradiated and the pristine—are embedded in global systems that connect them in surprising and complicated ways to our everyday lives.