Photographer Documents Toll of Labor Migration
In 2011, photographer Liu Jie captured the division of Chinese families by labor migration in a series of portraits. Against scenic countryside backdrops, his subjects posed with empty chairs representing family members who had gone away to find work. Now, TIME’s LightBox photography blog showcases Liu’s follow-up project: migrant workers in their urban workplaces, posing with life-sized photographs of the children and parents they left behind.
“Many children meet their parents once a year or even years, therefore some of them have both physical and psychological problems,” says the photographer.
Liu, who spent the summer at NYU as a 2012 Magnum Foundation Human Rights Fellow, was raised in a rural village in Shan Dong Province and is currently based in Beijing, having personally migrated to a city along with his family years prior. Beijing Railway Station, which serves as a gateway for millions of migrants to the capital, is in close proximity to his apartment, giving the photographer a unique view of the daily flood of fresh-faced migrants entering the city.
[…] After photographing family members left behind in the countryside, the photographer returned to Beijing and photographed rural migrants in their workspace. In a conceptual twist, Liu reunites family members photographically. Parents, at a construction site or sausage factory, stand beside towering portraits of their children back home, creating a visual contrast—a collision of rural and urban—and a bridging of that chasm of familial separation within a single frame.
Deborah Jian Lee and Sushma Subramanian reported on the socially corrosive effects of Chinese labor migration at Foreign Policy last year, describing its emotional toll on the country’s estimated 58 million “left behind” children. But another set of images at People’s Daily Online (via Adam Minter) presents the other side of the story, combining photographs of migrant workers with graphs of their often steeply climbing incomes.
See also Huang Qingjun’s photo series Belongings, which views China’s economic changes from a different angle, via CDT.