AN AMATEUR PHOTOGRAPHER BASED IN SHANGHAI, CHINA, Hongqi Ye set out in 2014 to document
the culture of Chinese Miao, a diverse minority group
in China with a population of roughly 10 million people
across the nation. A series of six images from the project led to a Grand Prize win in PDN’s Faces Competition in 2017. Here, we catch up with Ye to learn more
about this ongoing project.
PDN: What has fueled your passion for this personal
Hongqi Ye: I spent a lot of time researching and
studying the history of the Chinese Miao nationality
and, frankly speaking, the Miao people and their rich
culture encouraged me to go further, to dig deeper, to
work harder and to become a better photographer so
I can document them for this project. From province
to province and from village to village where the Miao
people are living, there are many common cultural
features of their lives and homes, but there also are
many differences—in architecture, family furniture,
marriage, funerals, religious faith, dress and personal
adornment, even in language. I want to document
PDN: How did you find your subjects?
HY: Miao people are very hospitable. Whenever you
encounter a Miao person in their village, no matter
whether it is your first time meeting, they will invite
you to their home. So convincing the subjects to be
photographed was not so difficult.
PDN: How did you decide on the mood and tone of
HY: The project is a documentation of the Miao’s
existing culture, so everything I’m photographing is
real and natural. The subjects are wearing their own
costume in the place they are living and with natural
light. As a portrait photographer, I am inspired by the
masters’ painting styles, like Rembrandt and Vermeer,
but overall I want to document a peaceful and quiet
mood to express to the viewer who the subjects are
and where they are from.
PDN: What’s the most difficult part of this series?
HY: Compared to the portraits I capture in studio, this
approach is totally different. This is environmental
and documentary-style portraiture, so everything is
coming from reality. Perhaps the most challenging
part of making this series is keeping the mood and
tone consistent and getting high-quality shots every
time. That means low noise and a shooting with a
depth of focus that covers the background. I never
set the camera’s ISO over 400. Additionally, I have to
work with subjects who are not used to being in front
of the camera. I want to catch their personality and
expression but, on the other hand, I have to consider
that the subject is in a comfortable position and
encourage them to stay calm and keep still in order to
achieve the peaceful mood for the series.
PDN: What are some good practices you’ve learned
for making environmental portraits?
H Y: Pay attention to the subject’s character. Look for
something distinct, special or identifiable about who
they are. Also, good portraits must have good lighting
on the subject’s face and eyes no matter whether the
subject is in motion or still.
Check out the full gallery from last year’s Faces
competition at facesphotocontest.com. The next
submission period will open in June.
In Their Own Space
HONGQI YE DISCUSSES HIS ONGOING PORTRAIT PROJECT ABOUT DOCUMENTING
THE HISTORY AND CULTURE OF THE CHINESE MIAO.
Interview by Stacey Goldberg