Beijing: Recycling and memory
Beijing Silvermine is a project by french photographer Thomas Sauvin to recover the photographic records of the people of Beijing after the Cultural Revolution, from 1985 when photography (mainly 35 mm) became popular in China, until about 2005, when it began to give way to digital photography.
For several years, Sauvin collected negatives (many of them never printed), recovered from a recycling plant on the outskirts of Beijing. After an exhaustive selection and digitization, he has created a fascinating archive with over half a million 35 mm negatives that has become an intriguing record of the public and private lives of the inhabitants of that city. Over the past 20 years, China has experienced unprecedented economic liberalization, which has completely redefined the way people in its cities thrive, travel, eat and enjoy themselves.
This collection of material from anonymous sources has served as the input for editing a collection of photo books and exhibitions, in which Sauvin provides an authorial contribution to the reinterpretation of a form of appropriation, which has even been the starting point for collaborative pieces such as the animation by chinese visual artist Lei Lei, who selected 3,000 of these images to create an audiovisual piece entitled precisely Recycled in 2013. Director Emiliad Guillermine produced a short documentary that bears witness to Sauvin’s experience and his meticulous collection, sorting, editing and digitization of the thousands of images he recovered.
Thus, Sauvin’s work brings us closer to part of the collective memory of current Chinese society, enabling us to understand how it has changed its cultural dynamics in recent years, while providing a new perspective on the experience of the visual appropriation and recycling at a time when the mass production and consumption of images leads us to understand the importance, but above all the enormous authorial possibilities of the editor and curator to generate new discourses.