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Guo Yingguang: "I chose this subject because the phrase "leftover women" was widely used in China at the time, and I was one of these "leftover women" myself." | The Kitab
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Guo Yingguang: “I chose this subject because the phrase “leftover women” was widely used in China at the time, and I was one of these “leftover women” myself.”

KT: Having started your photographic career with photojournalistic agency Reuters, when/what was your first encounter with photography?

GY: It was before I graduated from college when I worked as a photojournalism intern at a newspaper.

 

KT: Your work is about exploring social problems in contemporary China: women on the shelf arranged marriages, and pseudo-intimacy between the husbands and wives who are the victims of such marriages. On what basis do you select your subjects? What are the hardships you face while working on such intimate subjects?

GY: I chose this subject because the phrase “leftover women” was widely used in China at the time, and I was one of these “leftover women” myself. The year I turned 30 was a time when I had to make a lot of decisions, and it was also a period of confusion and uncertainty. I decided to go to graduate school in the UK, and my time there made me reflect on many issues related to self-worth. So the project started with the phrase “leftover women”, and it went on to explore marriages arranged by parents. Are these arranged marriages happy ones? Can a marriage really bring an end to anxieties? What’s it like to be in a pseudo-intimate relationship? One question was raised after another and the project proceeded from there. Overall, I think the more difficult part for me in this project was to present that kind of pseudo-intimacy visually.

 

KT: Your recent photobook ‘The Bliss of Conformity’ is a powerful project which questions the traditional intergenerational relationships and views of marriage, as well as discrimination against the so-called ‘leftover women’. What do you like about photography in a photo book format?

GY: I think the photobook is a very intuitive medium, and it can trigger a myriad of subtle emotions. The viewer, as well as the tempo, method and location of viewing, can result in many different possibilities.

 

KT: In your photobook, you have used stark red cover along with different paper texture as a metaphor to showcase what is the life of couples in China, marriages that come from the marriages arranged at the ‘Match-making parks’. Why did you use such an eye-catching stark red cover? What was the intent behind using multi-textured paper for your book?

GY: The colour red is used profusely at Chinese weddings. It can be a symbol of marriage and happiness, but my choice to use it in my book is more or less motivated by a sense of irony. I’m inspired by the look of Chinese marriage certificates and have chosen velour as the cover texture to enhance the sense of intimacy. On the other hand, the multi-textured paper is a portrayal of the lack of intimacy. You see all kinds of paper at the matchmaking park, and every piece of paper represents a human being. Some of these sheets are attached to red threads and hung on trees, some are clipped to open umbrellas, and some are nailed to tree trunks; all of them are waiting to be “chosen”.

 

KT: In one of your interviews, you quoted, “I interviewed some of the people around me whose marriage was arranged by their parents. They share pictures on social media, and they look really happy. There’s one woman I know in a group chat who is like this, posting happy pictures on social media, but underneath that, she says can’t bear it, and she’s very sad and disappointed about her marriage”. Why do you think that many couples in China are living a two-dimensional life? What has been the response of your project within China considering conservative societies such as China and India are not easy to deal with?

GY: I think this kind of dualism comes from the fact that a lot of marriages are products of the matchmaking of attributes. Among all the things that are examined and weighed during the matchmaking process, actual feelings between couples are brushed away as the least practical factor and are generally considered useless. Many people haven’t realized that this is a problem.

The responses to my work are polarized. Some people start thinking and talking about various issues after seeing my work, and it’s quite interesting to see the viewpoints of people from different fields and backgrounds. On the other hand, some people believe that one has to face reality instead of dwelling on ideals. They think my definition of happiness is idealistic and pointless, and don’t care for it.

 

KT: While talking on male-dominance in the art world, another talented photographer from China, Pixy Liao quoted, “In China and India, we have a much longer history of male domination in our society, and it’s written in all the beliefs we have. I do see hope though, with more and more exposure to works by female artists, we can change that.” What are your views on it?

GY: I’m very excited to see more and more people starting to pay attention to artworks centred on women’s issues. I hope it’s not just a trend but a sign of solid progress.

 

KT: With your experimental artistic approach which focuses on an important social problem, what do you want to achieve with your photography in the end?

GY: I haven’t thought about that. I have no preconceived expectations for my work.

 

Photos©Yingguang GUO

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