Pho­tog­ra­pher Wang Fuchun found fame decades ago with his book Chi­nese Peo­ple on Trains, a project that is still on­go­ing.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - LIFE -

Ay­oung woman looks deep into her lover’s eyes as they scrunch to­gether in a nar­row bed, shar­ing one blan­ket, in a sleep­ing car­riage of a train head­ing from Guangzhou to Chengdu.

The mo­ment was cap­tured in 1996 by Wang Fuchun, a pho­tog­ra­pher who’s renowned for his book Chi­nese Peo­ple on Trains, which fea­tures pho­to­graphs cap­tur­ing such mo­ments in the lives of peo­ple trav­el­ing on trains.

Since 1978, Wang has de­voted him­self to pho­tograph­ing pas­sen­gers on trains for nearly 40 years, and the 74-year-old pho­tog­ra­pher still sticks to this theme.

As time has passed, his col­lec­tions of black-and-white images have formed a record of the changes in Chi­nese so­ci­ety and charted the trans­for­ma­tion of China’s rail­ways as they have pro­gressed the age of steam lo­co­mo­tives to diesel to the cur­rent era of elec­tric bul­let trains.

“His works show a strong sense of the times and dis­play the spirit of the peo­ple,” Yuan Zi, an au­thor known for his young-adult fic­tions, said at a re­cent book event in Bei­jing to pro­mote the re­lease of the lat­est edi­tion of Wang’s Chi­nese Peo­ple on Trains.

The book was first pub­lished in 2001. The lat­est edi­tion in­cludes 37 new pho­to­graphs.

For Wang, the 1990s was a decade with rapid de­vel­op­ment and the coun­try ex­pe­ri­enced great changes thanks to the re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy. It was also the pe­riod when his works be­came ma­ture ex­hibit­ing aes­thetic and his­tor­i­cal value.

In one photo taken in 1995, a dog, stand­ing on a ta­ble, stares hun­grily at a young woman who’s eat­ing in­stant noo­dles in a sleep­ing car­riage. Now that pets are trans­ported sep­a­rately from their own­ers when trav­el­ing by train, scenes like this can no longer be seen, says Wang.

Wang also out­lines the fash­ions of the time through such pic­tures as a woman wear­ing a T-shirt with images of the ac­tor Leonardo DiCaprio, which were pop­u­lar af­ter the film Ti­tanic was screened in China, a man us­ing a pro­to­type mo­bile phone, and two peo­ple lis­ten­ing to­gether to a Walk­man.

“Rus­sian au­thor Maxim Gorky said the sub­ject of lit­er­a­ture was hu­mans. I think that is also true of pho­tog­ra­phy,” Wang says.

Guided by such a phi­los­o­phy, Wang gave up land­scape and wildlife pho­tog­ra­phy to put all his en­ergy into doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy.

“I would like to call my­self the pho­tog­ra­pher near­est to peo­ple,” Wang says.

Ac­cord­ing to Wang, the car­riages in the 1990s could be crowded, muggy and smelly, yet the in­ter­ac­tions be­tween pas­sen­gers neu­tral­ized the bit­ter­ness.

He wan­dered back and forth along the aisles of the trains ob­serv­ing the pas­sen­gers, seek­ing to cap­ture at­trac­tive and warm­hearted mo­ments: Men shar­ing cig­a­rettes and al­co­hol, peo­ple play­ing cards, and par­ents try­ing to keep their kids amused were all framed in his viewfinder from a hu­mane and hu­mor­ous per­spec­tive.

“One thing I ap­pre­ci­ate in his works is that by fo­cus­ing on or­di­nary peo­ple, he presents a more pos­i­tive per­spec­tive than merely show­ing the hard­ships,” says Yuan Zi.

That op­ti­mism is rooted in Wang’s child­hood.

Af­ter los­ing both of his par­ents at a very young age, Wang was raised by his brother, who was work­ing in the rail­way sys­tem, and his sis­ter-in-law.

Al­though poor and with five chil­dren of their own to raise, they in­sisted on spon­sor­ing Wang through a rail­way driver’s school.

Af­ter five years’ ser­vice in the mil­i­tary, Wang be­came a rail­way worker. Soon af­ter the “cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion” (196676), he started pho­tograph­ing the rail­ways and trains.

With the priv­i­lege of free train travel as a rail­way em­ployee, Wang trav­eled hun­dreds of thou­sands of miles and pre­served tens of thou­sands of neg­a­tive films through the 1990s. He might have trav­eled more than 100 times a year.

Wang’s long-last­ing at­tach­ment and deep af­fec­tion for China’s rail­ways form the con­stant and pri­mary mo­tive for his 39 years’ per­sis­tence.

Dur­ing the mid-1990s, four or five di­azepam tablets couldn’t get him into sleep. How­ever, the rhyth­mic rum­ble of the old-style trains was able to cure his chronic in­som­nia, he says.

Yet, Wang’s de­vo­tion some­times led to mis­un­der­stand­ings.

“When I wan­der along the aisle and look around, peo­ple will some­times be­come de­fen­sive. Once a pas­sen­ger mis­took me for a thief and turned me over to the po­lice. I had to show my work cre­den­tials and ex­plain what I was do­ing over and over again be­fore they would re­lease me,” he re­calls.

As the Chi­nese peo­ple pay more at­ten­tion to pri­vacy nowa­days, tak­ing pho­tos of strangers has be­come even harder. Wang was even punched in the face in 2015 when tak­ing pic­tures of a pas­sen­ger in a high-speed train.

An­other chal­lenge Wang faces is that peo­ple rarely talk to strangers nowa­days. In­stead, they ap­pear in his pho­tos con­cen­trat­ing on their cell­phones.

“How­ever, there are still in­ter­est­ing mo­ments, in­ter­ac­tions and sto­ries on bul­let trains and I’m try­ing hard to dis­cover and cap­ture them. For ex­am­ple, no­body talk­ing and ev­ery­one star­ing at cell­phones is a new story to tell.”

Now in his seven­ties, Wang still grabs every op­por­tu­nity to get on trains and pho­to­graph pas­sen­gers in car­riages.

His ef­forts for Chi­nese Peo­ple on Trains will con­tinue. Now he’s work­ing on a new edi­tion of the book, which will be re­leased next year.

“One can only fo­cus on one thing in one’s life. I’m so lucky to have my in­ter­est as my ca­reer.”

I would like to call my­self the pho­tog­ra­pher near­est to peo­ple.”

Con­tact the writer at fan­gaiqing@ chi­nadaily.com.cn.

The lat­est edi­tion of Wang’s book is re­leased by Post Wave Pub­lish­ing Con­sult­ing (Bei­jing).

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