Photo: Adrian Fisk
Photographer Adrian Fisk traveled 2,700 kilometers across China and India to discover that most young people are, in essence, exactly the same. While living in India, Fisk realised he knew nothing about young people in the nearby country of China, and neither did anyone else in India. Fisk dug deeper into the subject and came across the staggering fact that there are 1.2 billion people under the age of 30 years old in China and India.
“I wanted to find out what these young people thought,” said Fisk, 41, who is currently in London. “If I found out what was in these people’s minds, I figured I would get an idea of where our world is headed at this pivotal time.”
Fisk wanted his project to be a voice for these young people that the rest of the world knew little about.
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He started his photo project “iSpeak” in China in 2008. The project consists of portraits of Chinese men and women between the ages of 16 and 30 in their natural environments. Each would hold up a white sign on which they would write a message expressing their worldviews or desires.
In 2010, Fisk expanded the iSpeak project to India. In the meantime, the project went viral back in China as blogs and major media outlets started discussing its significance.
The United Nations Population Fund is now supporting the project, which will be called iSpeak Global. Fisk hopes to expand to 25 countries, starting in Africa next.
The 25 countries are all relevant to the 21st century in political, economical and social ways and when the project is completed, the exhibition will go on tour. There are also plans to publish a book with all of the portraits.
Currently, Fisk is in London seeking additional fundraising from companies for the continuation of the project. He has been kind enough to share some images with us, but be sure to check out the full collection at AdrianFisk.com.
As Fisk traveled across China during a 30-day period with a translator in tow, he randomly selected people he saw on the streets, on farms, or seated next to him at a cafe, and asked them to be part of his project.
At first, he said, most of the Chinese would respond, “what would you like me to write?”
“The Chinese struggle with freedom of expression,” Fisk said. “I then said, ‘No, this is about you.'”
The answer was typically: “China’s a great country and I want to be rich.” This was an unacceptable answer to Fisk, because all 1.2 billion people would respond that way.
He then probed his subjects asking, “What were you thinking about two hours ago?” “What will you be doing tomorrow?” “What is your relationship with your parents like?”
Sometimes these conversations would last two hours, and once the subject’s mind was buzzing, they’d have a truly original thought to write down.
One of the more powerful messages to Fisk was from a 22-year-old software engineering student named Rainbow Su. Su wrote on his card, “I am worrying something. Girls in China is becoming materialistic, without house my girlfriend would not marry me. My parents cannot help me either. So I need to get good job with high payment, that’s what I totally want.”
“It just goes to show how increasingly materialistic and consumer driven China is,” Fisk said.
During his journey, Fisk came across illiterate people who couldn’t write for themselves, but still had something to share. He dealt with this challenge by asking those people to hold up blank posters, which made for an “even more powerful political message,” Fisk said. Then, Fisk wrote down what they wanted to say for his captions and included them in the project that way.
“Everyone has something to say,” Fisk said. “Just because you don’t know how to write, doesn’t mean you can’t take part in the project. … It’s even more important these people, who don’t have a voice on any level, participate.”
As Fisk finished his project, he reflected on the trust he built with his subjects. He referred to himself as a “strange white bloke” who came up to them, tapped them on their shoulder and asked about their inner most thoughts.
“Whether you’re in rural China or New York City, you begin to realise over time looking through these photographs that the essence of humanity remains the same,” Fisk said. “We all want a good life, to get ahead, we want love. That’s a part of the essence of the project. It is understanding who we are and that we’re not so different.”
Chow Liang, 17. Hair stylist student on his way to see his father, who works in another province. Gansu Province. 'In adults' eyes I am a bad person in society, but in fact I am a very obedient person.'
Jia Jia, 25. (Day) Mobile phone after sales service/(Evening) Studying marketing management/(Night) Professional nightclub dancer. Guangxi Province. 'Now days many young people do not care about the development of China and the world. They only care about themselves and ignore other people and things around them.'
Zhang Xiang Yun, 24. Just returned to the village from migrant construction work. Gansu Province. (Illiterate) 'I want the economic development of the village to be better and faster.'
Luo Zheng Chui, 30. Farmer. Yunnan Province. 'After watching television I have many thoughts, but I know I cannot achieve them.'
Ma Xiao Lian, 19. Farmer. Qinghai Province. (Illiterate) 'My husband and I want to become migrant laborers so we can work hard to make ourselves and our parents happy.'
Anvesh Chakra, 22. Hindu. Andhra Pradesh. Studying electronics in New York. Telegu - 'The political governing system should change in terms of corruption.'
Bharati, 23. Muslim. Bombay. Prostitute - Has one child and is pregnant with another. Illiterate - 'Like you, we need the same things in life.'
Ramila Mandoriya, 28. Hindu Madhya Pradesh. Works in a food fortification centre. Mother of three children. Hindi - 'Sometimes we have to travel 3 kms to and fro to get water. I want a hand pump.'
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