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Ziboy: Photographer Lifts the Veil on the Real Beijing

By intern reporter ZHU HONG

    WEN Ling is an ordinary, 33-year-old Beijinger and arts graduate who has become a celebrity of sorts for his photoblog Ziboy ( Displaying his many vivid pictures of the Chinese capital, the website is a window through which foreigners have become “virtual explorers” of China. Now, many famed writers and photographers admit to Wen’s influence on them. Ziboy has inspired blogs that not only mimick its approach, but also its signature colors and webpage design.

    Mutual Admiration SocietyLaunched

    In 2001, Wen Ling came across a photoblog ( established by New Yorker David F. Gallagher, and it was a revelation. “On David’s blog, I saw for the first time what foreigners’ homes look like, what they eat for lunch and where they go for fun at night. I felt rather surprised because that was a New York I had never seen on TV or in newspapers,” says Wen.

    Immediately Wen adapted the concept. “If pictures taken by a common New Yorker could be such a pleasant surprise for a Chinese person, I thought why not do the same thing – show ‘my’ Beijing to them and offer the same sorts of insights?” So he invested around RMB 2,500 in a digital camera, one with only a million pixels, and set up his own photoblog – Ziboy.

    “I was snapping everywhere at any time, like on my way to work and on shopping errands, our mealtimes, my home, and parties with my friends. My subjects are typical of life in Beijing – the city where I live.” Every day Wen carried his camera wherever he went, and captured scenes of anything that tickled his fancy. Usually he averaged more than 100 photos per day, often reaching 3,000 photos per month. Then he sorted the pictures carefully and uploaded the best and most expressive ones onto his blog.

    As soon as the Ziboy website was underway, Wen wrote an e-mail to David in New York to inform him of his blog and express his sincere wish that more foreigners would take a look at how people live in Beijing – possibly even make contact with Chinese people through the site. His proposal got an immediate and appreciative response from the American. David put a link for Ziboy on his Lighteningfield blog and called on netizens to take a look at it, explaining the fresh perspectives on Chinese life that could be found there. Ziboy soon gained a bit of a reputation among foreign websurfers.

Ziboy blogger gains fame by tapping into the extrordinary ordinary. 

    That’s China

    Foreign friends appear to like Ziboy a lot. Many of them contacted Wen via e-mail to express their hope of seeing yet more pictures of Chinese life. “I receive up to 30 e-mails a day. An older Scottish man, who at one point in his life had lived in China for many years, said he was touched by my photos and especially eager to know more about what China looks like now. An English man wrote to say that he found the Beijing depicted in my blog a very interesting place and had changed his vacation destination from France to China so he could check it out for himself. Foreigners often use the word ‘amazing’ to describe their reaction to my pictures,” enthuses Wen.

    Those passionate responses gave Wen more confidence. “Many foreigners barely knew a thing about China before taking a look at my blog. My photos radically changed their impressions of the country and offered them a brand-new incentive to discover or rediscover China,” and he adds, “This has strengthened my motivation to continue building Ziboy.”

    Ziboy Here to Stay

    “Ziboy has become a part of my life,” admits Wen, already used to porting the camera with him daily and recording any scenes of interest. Of his choice of subjects he says without apology, “These photos of normal every day things are the most vivid and authentic mirrors of our daily life here.” About his amateur status and spontaneous methods, he insists, “Beijing is captured from the perspective of a regular guy, with the simplest of photographic techniques, and an aim to present events objectively... so I hope they convey a pure and compelling portrait of the city life around me.”

    “Images, beyond language, can be grasped by all the people of the world. No matter where you live, you can relate to other people, anywhere, through photoblogs. I firmly believe there will be more and more people joining us in this field,” says Wen. “The future will see the emergence of photoblogs, not only on Beijing, but other places around China,” he predicts. “I look forward to seeing photobloggers answer the call from Northeastern China and areas in the south, for example.”

    Wen’s interest in the visual arts isn’t limited to photography. He also does cartooning, some design work and paints in oils, but he says that his photography has become a surprisingly satisfying part of his life and that will never change.

VOL.59 NO.12 December 2010 Advertise on Site Contact Us