Laowai - About

Souvenir from the Statue of Liberty, Shenzhen, China


In 2015, my partner (David Hyams) and I were offered jobs working for a boutique photographic printing company in Shenzhen, China. The promise of a job that was unattainable in the United States, a much increased wage, and the opportunity to live in a country very different from what we had previously experienced was appealing. We sold most of our belongings, packed the rest, and flew ourselves and our dog to Shenzhen. This body of work is about my personal experience living in a Special Economic Zone in southern China. It is a visual interpretation of my attempt to connect to the people, landscape, and history of a very unfamiliar place.

In China I was called laowai when addressed in Mandarin, westerner when addressed in English. On a good day, I understood 20% of what was happening around me. Much was lost in translation between Mandarin, Cantonese, and English, between communism and capitalism, between urban and rural ways, and between lunar and Gregorian calendars. I primarily interacted with millennial Chinese who were born in a modern China and enjoyed what they would call a more western-style of living. And, Shenzhen was a new city built atop a fishing community when Deng Xiaoping designated it a Special Economic Zone open to foreign business. Because of this, I experienced a version of China with blurred boundaries in a unique moment in the country’s history.