Sixty Years In Portraits Show The Changes Of Both A Man And His Country

In 2007, a photography collector in China by the name of Tong Bingxue received a phone call. The caller had recently acquired a book of photos and was seeking an appraisal. It was a pretty typical call, that is, until Tong saw the photos.

The book, A Life in Portraits, featured a photo taken every year of a man named Ye Jinglu, who was born in the city of Fuzhou in 1881. He started taking yearly portraits in 1907 at the age of 27, and continued the tradition until his death in 1968. He stayed in Fuzhou for much of his life with his wife, save for some business travel, and worked as a shop manager. As expected, the photos show his growth and changes over the 61 years of his personal tradition, but they show something else, too.

In 1907, the year of the first photo, China was still ruled by the Qing Dynasty, a familial line of emperors in a tradition that dates back thousands of years in China. To give you an idea of how long dynastic rule had been in place, the Qing Dynasty, which was only one of many dynasties, began in 1644. In 1912, though, the dynasty fell and China became a republic. Later, it would become a Communist state under Mao. Even though they are only of one man, the photos show a shift in the culture and politics of an entire nation.

1907

1907

The first photo of Ye. He wears his hair in a long braid, called a queue, which men were required to wear as a symbol of loyalty to the Qing Dynasty. When the dynasty fell, many men cut their hair, including Ye.

1909

1909

This is the only photo of Ye in Western-style clothing. He had traveled to London at some point as a young man, and it”s possible that this was either taken abroad or was a result of his travels” influence.

1912

1912

The year of the fall of the Qing Dynasty, and Ye”s hair is cut in a short, Western style.

1916

1916

1924

1924

With a cane and pith helmet. The short jacket, called a magua became popular during the late Qing Dynasty and allowed for greater mobility than a long robe.

1925

1925

1932

1932

Ye gets glasses.

1935

1935

1941

1941

The crescent shape of Ye”s reading glasses allow him to see at two different depths, similar to bifocal lenses.

1949

1949

This photo, Tong believes, may be a reference to a similar image of Mao seated and reading the paper, and may be indicative of a political leaning.

1950

1950

By the middle of the century, Ye sports a so-called “Lenin cap,” named after the famous Communist leader.

1955

1955

1959

1959

1964

1964

1968

1968

This is Ye Jinglu”s last portrait. He died this year, at the age of 89 and having seen his country, as well as the rest of the world, change drastically.

The book features all 61 photos, and you can see Ye”s growth in more detail. Series over time are always fascinating, like Nicholas Nixon”s photos of the Brown sisters, as they show us a person”s growth with only the visual clues seen in the photos as reference to what might be happening in their lives.

Via Hyperallergic