Zhou Mi

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When I was very little, there was an old folding camera left in a forgotten drawer at a corner of the house. I never saw dad use it. Even though no one explained to me what it was for, I always felt an overwhelming curiosity towards that little black box. In the same dust-filled drawer, I also found a piece of glass that was yellow and round. I kept it in my pocket. On my way to and from school, I often took it out and looked at the sun through this golden eye, getting lost in that magical light. Little did I know then that such a small black box would become my most loyal companion on the long road to come. Later, it became an essential part of my daily life.

In 1984, I came into possession of my first camera. Whenever I had time, I looked through its lens at the China I knew: water lilies in the park, sunset over Yang-zi River, and the crowd on the street. After arriving at the United States in 1995, I started to focus my lens on people. I became mystified by the various characters I met. Looking at their eyes, I wanted to read their mind; watching their passing silhouette, I wanted to search for their origin and destiny. In every click of the shutter, I throw out a fishnet from my soul, capturing all that moved me, and carrying them home as my new found treasure. The moment is frozen in time; eternity is now possible.

People, is the ultimate subject matter, because of its complexity, diversity, and its endless possibilities. I see the mark of the material world on each individual; in the material world itself, I see the trace left by each individual’s consciousness, that which is formless, but also timeless. I record them in my mind as well as on film. I attempt to record people, their environment, and the particular atmosphere that moved me. I often think an environment without humans is dull and soulless; similarly, a human being independent of his environment appears pale and lost. I attempt to express the fluid nature of time in a 2-dimentional media – a still picture. My pictures are very personal. At the time when they record the reality around me, they also record my thoughts and my mood. I enjoy traveling alone and experiencing the wonders of nature and society. There were moments, however, when camera and film were rendered useless, while my soul remained receptive and the exposure at its utmost clarity.

In 1991, on the road to Tibet, I hailed a truck, asking the driver to drop me off at Lhasa. As the truck climbed up the Tibetan highland, we were surrounded by the snow covered mountain peaks, and humbled by the immense, wild power of their beauty. The macho-looking Tibetan truck driver turned on his tape recorder, a soprano’s lone voice filled the small cabin with a Tibetan folk lore, no words were spoken as we took turns gulping down strong sorghum wine. During that journey, I didn’t take out my camera, because my lens could not hold such absolute purity and immensity…

During the same year, I couldn’t get into Xi-Shuang-Ban-Na due to the lack of an authorized travel permit. Looking for a way to get in illegally, I met a few newly released drug-dealers in a border town bar. They claimed that they could sneak me into the region further up the River of Lan-Cang. That night, we camped by the river side. Out of cautiousness, I tied all my photo equipments and luggage around my body. It was a sleepless night, and not the least because of the bumpy pebbles beneath my sleeping bag. However, as the trip continued, they befriended me, doubled as my porters, and never betrayed me in any small way. During that trip, I didn’t take out my camera, because film can not record the complexity of such contrast…

In 1999, at a Native American tribe of New Mexico, the sun was setting as people started their annual Sun Dance. When the yellow dust rose above their dancing feet, a rainbow colored cloud slowly materialized above us. That moment, I didn’t take out my camera, because the shutter can not capture the dance of their spirit…

When I first stood before the majestic mountains of the Tibetan highland, I realized the vulnerability of human beings. Although we each possess our own world, as the most intelligent creatures of this earth, we are equal and are blessed with the common humanity. Diverse environments created diverse social groups, and various social groups formed this kaleidoscope world. To understand and to know others as I understand and know myself has become the eternal compass in all my travels. I believe that the gap between you and me can only be measured and filled by this understanding.

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