Removing Myself from My Own Photos: What I Learned While Editing and Sequencing My “Harmonious China” Project

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Harmonious China” by Neil Ta

Eric: This is a guest article by Neil Ta, my homie and babysitter. In this article he shares his new project, “Harmonious China” and his thoughts about the editing process.

Neil: My good friend and International Street Photographer, Eric Kim, first introduced me to the idea of letting photos marinate. The concept is really simple. When we take photos, there is an emotional attachment or bond that reminds us how amazing we felt when we took the image. Photographers who select and post their photos immediately are often times at a disadvantage because they let their emotions at the time of taking the photograph get in the way of their better judgement. To combat this, Eric has recommended to photographers to let their images marinate. As time passes and we revisit our images, we lose that emotional bond that had initially formed and we’re better able to objectively look at our images without biases.

So why the long-winded introduction to my new project, Harmonious China? Taking Eric’s advice, I recently decided to look at my archive of images that I shot in China back in April 2011. I hadn’t looked at these images in a very long time and secretly I was hoping that (by some act of god) I was able to pull something out of there that I had previously missed.

When I began to review the images, so much time had passed that they were fresh to my eyes, Surprisingly, I was able to pull out a number of images that fit into a centralized idea. Because I let the images marinate for so long, there were a number of shots that I forgot I took or had no immediate recollection of where it was taken.

The Idea

When I first started going through my archives, I wasn’t looking specifically for images that fit into any particular theme or genre. There were documentary style shots, personal images, landscapes, street photography, and everything in between.

Eventually, I stumbled upon one particular image that really stood out. It was  a snapshot of a slideshow taken inside the China Pavilion (a remnant from the 2010 World Expo) that read “A Harmonious China”. In my head I remember subsequent images and video from the slideshow flashing rapidly promoting China’s unparalleled growth, emphasizing uniformity, cooperation, and togetherness. It was the stereotype that I believed China wanted the world to see. As I dug deeper into the images I had taken, I began to see more and more images that I believe told a pretty compelling story. But it remained to be seen – did I actually have anything worth putting together?

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Harmonious China” by Neil Ta

The Editing

I snapped about 1,200 non-specific photos over the four weeks travelling through Hong Kong, Macau, Fuzhou, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Beijing. This included everything from self portraits at Tiananmen Square to the many generic photos of The Great Wall. I was initially quite worried that I wouldn’t have enough material for this project because I did not specifically set out with the intention of shooting for it and it was something that I was unlikely going back to China to complete.

As luck would have it, I was pleasantly surprised to see about 35 or so images that I thought might fit both visually and conceptually with my idea of a Harmonious China. Still unsure whether or not I had anything, I turned to a number of my trusted photographer friends to get their advice on how they felt about the project in general and how they would edit and sequence the images. I’m incredibly lucky to have talented photographer friends like Eric, Josh White, and Jonathan Castellino among others to assist me with such tasks.

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Harmonious China” by Neil Ta

From their feedback, it became quite obvious that there were about 8-10 photos that would definitely be included in the project. A couple of my colleagues believed this to be my best work, which was really quite a surprise but a much needed boost to my confidence. I chose a few more additional images for a final project of 14 images.

What makes this project particularly interesting for me was the fact that I was so removed from the photos. Because I had not thoroughly gone through my archives in a couple of years, I had forgotten that many of these images existed. As a result, I believe that I was better able to choose images that were more appropriate. It felt as though I was curating someone else’s images.

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Harmonious China” by Neil Ta

The Final Project: A Harmonious China

Shot in 2011, a Harmonious China explores the powerful stereotypes the Western World has of this economic and political super power. China has successfully marketed itself as a nation that is uniform, prosperous, yet still very much politically rigid.

The idea of the project is that these photographs could have been taken by any casual tourist of that country. When that tourist looks over their photos and digs a little deeper, only then do they begin to realize how these stereotypes are being portrayed and interpreted by the Chinese government, its people, and the rest of the world.

Please view the edited and sequenced Harmonious China project in full screen and share  your thoughts below.

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Harmonious China” by Neil Ta

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Neil Ta, Detroit 2013. Photo by Eric Kim
Neil Ta, Detroit 2013. Photo by Eric Kim

Neil Ta is a Toronto-based photographer, urban explorer, rooftopper, traveler, and gentle lover. He is also Eric Kim’s Babysitter  Manager. You can view his portfolio or follow him on FacebookTwitter, or Flickr.

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