During the course of my industrial design career various business trips have allowed me to travel to many parts of the world that ordinarily I would have never seen. My profession has made the planet very small for me. Nearly all of my travel over the last 30 years has been to China, where I’ve enjoyed the culture, food, landscapes, and wonderful people. I’ve witnessed the transformation of Shenzhen from a sleepy fishing village into the “Workshop of the World”. Napoleon once said: “Let China sleep; when she wakes she will shake the world.” I’ve been privileged to have ring-side seats to the awakening and felt the shaking.
I travel to China 4 – 5 times per year and have decided to blend my avocation of photography with life in China. There have been so many great photo opportunities that I’ve missed in the past. I don’t want to miss them in the future, so my camera(s) go with me everywhere now.
I was very active in photography while in high school & college, but took a 25 year hiatus after graduation (marriage / kids / job – you know…). I had dabbled in photography for the last 10 years and had accumulated some interesting shots, but I was taking photos as a tourist. Lots of pretty postcard photos.
I “rejoined” the world of photography several years ago for an unlikely reason. For my daughter’s eighteenth birthday she requested that I paint something for her. I had experimented with “impressionist” style painting for a short period after college and enjoyed it. As I began her new painting I quickly realized I wasn’t going to have the free time to finish the painting to my liking (I’m border-line OCD). As I stood there staring at the photograph I was painting I came to the realization that I really enjoyed taking photos – and NOT painting them. The instant gratification of capturing a moment in time was what I was looking for. I never finished the painting, but instead began investing in photo gear to re-embrace the passion I enjoyed as a youth. This has become my creative “outlet”. I’ve also built a home studio so I can experiment with portraiture when I’m not in China.
Most of the photos on this blog are a combination of “street photography” and documentary photography. I used quotes around “street photography” because there are about 200 different definitions for this genre of photography and even more “rules” that people seem to want to apply. I choose to ignore the rules and jump back-and-forth between the two styles. This work-in-process provides an opportunity for me to share my photos from China with anyone interested. Some people may be interested in the photos from a travelogue perspective, and others for the photographic experience.
This photography blog / portfolio project also fills a void left in my life after my (ex) wife left our marriage.
I use all Nikon gear (plus my iPhone), after having used Canon equipment in my early photography days. Why did I switch? Because in my teens I lusted for this and as soon as I had some money I wanted to fulfill a lifelong dream.
One of the obvious questions that people ask me is – do you speak Chinese? Well… I pick up one or two new words on every trip, so I’m up to about 100 words. Just enough to order dinner in a restaurant. Luckily there are a lot of good translation programs available for the iPhone. This one is AMAZING.
EDIT: 11.15.12 – I just started Chinese language lessons last week. It’s time to see if this old dog can learn any new tricks. I should have done this 20 years ago, but who knew I would still be making the commute to China.
EDIT: 1.28.16 – I’ve officially given up learning Chinese.
I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my first photography mentor. Dick Stevens was my photography professor at Notre Dame in the late ’70s. He taught me a lot of things about photography and life in general. He taught me that once you perfect your technology and craft the rest was art, and there were no rules to art. He challenged me to stretch my creativity in a place that wasn’t very right-brained. Professor Stevens was a pretty easy-going guy and didn’t scare me like a lot of other teachers at Notre Dame. He also arranged my first private photography studio at Notre Dame – in a large lead-lined room that had housed ND’s first nuclear accelerator. I was told it was “clean”, but I’ve always wondered why they were so fast to let a lone art student get access to that amazing space for a photography studio. Weird. They tore down the building the next year. Anyway I set-up a great college studio with a seamless backdrop / 4″ x 5″ camera / lights / color darkroom / bar. Yeah, that was a popular studio…
Note about the images on this web site:
Selective Color: Some of the thumbnails on my site use a process called “selective color”. Using a Photoshop filter I “paint” parts of the image into B&W. I started using this when I first launched the site in 2011 because I thought it was a clever way to highlight a person or portion of the photograph and separate that element from the rest. The consensus of the people who have seen the website have told me they thought it’s really cool. I’m not so sure anymore. Most serious photographers have started steering clear of selective color because it’s become trite. I’ve begun doing the same. I’ve re-edited the slideshow and the whole front page of the site to be “selective color-free”.
Image Quality: I’ve intentionally reduced the JPEG image quality to approximately 60% of the base value. This may help reduce the number of “poachers” that may be tempted to re-purpose these images without permission or copyright acknowledgement. Minimizing the photo quality also reduces the image’s file size and load time for each page.
Watermarks: I refuse to put huge watermarks on my photos. It’s like a dog peeing on something to mark his territory. The territory smells like pee afterwards.
Please contact me if you’re interested in purchasing or using any of these photos – firstname.lastname@example.org Some of the photos are also available through Getty Images.
Petapixel story- Street Photography in China by Jim Hofman