Magnum Foundation

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Zhe Chen | Bees

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Country of origin: China
Project location: China
Program: Inge Morath Award
Year: 2011

They left their lives in the very wounds they had created for themselves.
– Virgil (Roman poet, 70BC – 19BC)

To jeopardize existence for existence itself: ‘Bees’ records a marginalized group of people in China, who, faced with chaos, violence, alienation and irredeemable loss in life, feel propelled to leave physical traces and markings on their bodies, in order to preserve and corroborate a pure and sensitive mind from within.

In 2010, having ‘The Bearable’ (a photo series documenting my own self-inflictions over the past 4 years) as my passport, I had the opportunity to develop a close relationship with some of these obstinate souls – the bees. During the process of exchanging secrets with them, I crossed paths with certain possibilities that were formerly untouched but towards which I had struggled greatly in my personal life. I’m struck by the unyielding actions and reactions that the bees carry on with while encountering sudden and acute emotional fluxes, and moved by the recurrent effort they make to recover themselves afterwards. No matter how different our lives seem to be, we undoubtedly share common psychological experiences.

I hope my photographs inquire upon society’s prejudice and preconception towards this community, and not become illustrations or pictorial evidence for the topic at hand: every subject is an individual, not just ‘one of them’ – his or her life cannot be predicted or dictated by any constructed social code or notion. Depression plants the seed of introspection. The bees take it in; They reason it, embrace it and explore it, forming an isolated universe in their own minds. These self-sustained universes contain every reason that explains the ‘abnormality’ that no one who lacks in common experiences could decode. I hope a first glance of my work conveys the idea of secrecy and sentiments, under which lies information awaiting exposure and recognition: like an index page pointing towards all the unanswered questions.