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Art of everyday life

Xing Yi
Updated: Jun 24,2015 10:16 AM     China Daily

A family with belongings outside an old residential building in Guangdong province.[Photo/China Daily]

In a recently published photo album The Family Belongings of Chinese People, social documentary photographer Ma Hongjie tries to capture the life of Chinese people through a different angle - their daily objects.

From 2003 to 2014, Ma visited 45 families of different ethnicities and income levels, and took photos of them with their family belongings displayed together.

A family of a folk opera performer in Guizhou province

“What is home? I think home is the place that you came from and that you miss after you leave it,” Ma, 52, wrote in the preface. “In a sense, family belongings are a tangible form of home.”

Ma asked families to move all the contents of their homes outside, and carefully set up the stage, with the people facing the camera at the center, surrounded by a whole set of their daily objects, and their home in the background.

In the photos, there is a falcon trainer who lives in a snow-covered town in Northeast China’s Jilin province, a soldier on a sun-scorched island in the South China Sea and a Kazakh herdsman in northwestern Gansu province, among Ma’s other subjects.

An ethnic Hani family in front of their cottage in Yunnan province

Each has a distinct set of family belongings, and the details of their lives are reflected in those objects, which tell a rare family story.

There are quotidian objects such as kitchen wares and home appliances, and there are fine decorations such as antique jars and screens. For families of herdsmen, their belongings also include various livestock such as pigs, cows and sheep.

A wide range of natural scenery and architecture around the country are also captured by Ma’s lens - the vast grasslands of the Inner Mongolia, the traditional Chinese wooden house in Southwest China and homes on boats along the Yellow River.

A cave family in Hubei province.

All together, they form a diverse expression of the contemporary reality in a rapidly urbanizing China.

Besides shooting the primary photos of the people and their belongings, Ma made photo essays on the different aspects of their lives - the work they do, how they spend their leisure time and the food they eat.

A family living on Loess Plateau in Shanxi province

Ma also includes a photographer’s log for each family in the album, recording the process of finding the people and shooting the photos, in which he tells parts of the family history as they told him.

“We are living in an era that is worth recording, and there are so many topics in China,” says well-known photographer He Yanguang. “Ma has found his own angle. I hope his album can inspire more friends to pay attention to the details in our lives.”