On This Day


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On November 17, 1997, a Chinese woman posed in front of a wallpaper cityscape of the New York skyline featuring the World Trade Center. Later, on August 23, 1998, and February 27, 2000, a scaled-down replica of the Twin Towers appeared behind middle-class Chinese visitors at a popular Beijing theme park filled with copies of world landmarks. Finally, on September 12, 2001, a photograph was taken off a TV screen showing the World Trade Center engulfed in flames. The event that became known as 9/11 was witnessed the following morning in China, and dramatically recasts the previous images, which together allude to some of the mediated ways that Chinese citizens have participated in recent American history.

Personal photographs are largely impervious to public events, but their inescapable imprint is visible in retrospect.On This Day is a new sample of Thomas Sauvin’s vast archive, ‘Beijing Silvermine’. That archive is the result of an intervention by the French collector that is now legendary:  anonymous colour negatives were salvage from being melted down for their silver content from a recycling plant on the outskirts of the city. Instead, over many years living in China and now back in Paris

Sauvin bought the dusty negatives by the kilo in old rice bags. Now numbering over 850,000, the negatives span twenty years from 1985 to 2005 – from the time amateur cameras, films and labs became widely available to the Chinese middle class to their disappearance with the rise of digital cameras. These are not discarded memories, since the ‘original’ prints may still be safely treasured in family albums in Beijing. But Sauvin’s digital scanning of the discarded negatives has yielded an extraordinary alternative life for the images. The twilight of point-and-shoot film photography was also a time of massive transformation in Chinese society, and the archive provides a unique insight into everyday Chinese desires and aspirations. The standard repertoire of snap happy moments – birthdays, weddings, holidays, portraits of wives and girlfriends and cats – is supplemented by an unusually large number of photographs of people posing with new consumer items such as refrigerators and TVs, uniquely Chinese rituals such as brides lighting multiple cigarettes for men at weddings, military costumes, Mao posters and giant pandas.

On This Day

A project by Klara Källström & Thobias Fäldt and Thomas Sauvin
Photographs: Beijing Silvermine
Selected by Thomas Sauvin [2021]
Text: On This Day
Essays by Daniel Palmer and Johannes Wahlström
Design by Axel von Friesen and Michael Evidon
100 pages with 100 color plates
Full color offset
Bound with brass fasteners
Soft cover with silk screen printing
First edition: 500

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