From preeminent awards like the Tokyo International Foto Awards and leading platforms like Invisible Photographer Asia to the publishing (and republishing) of iconic photobooks like Hong Kong Yesterday by Fan Ho and The Ravens by Masahisa Fukase, the last decade has served as a reminder of the enduring power of Asian voices in photography–and the continent’s diverse and unparalleled influence on the history of the medium.
Over the years, Feature Shoot has interviewed and featured many extraordinary photographers exploring the nuances of identity, heritage, family, and memory in Asia and beyond. Below, we’ve spotlighted just fifteen unforgettable projects from Asian, Asian American, Asian Dutch, British Asian, and Asian-Latinx artists in recent years.
“I can’t say that they represent a whole new generation of women in China,” Beijing-based photographer Luo Yang says of the women in her book GIRLS. “But they are absolutely a group of women who represent independence and freedom.” Among them are friends, friends of friends, and strangers, all celebrated for their individuality in candid, expressive portraits. “I feel they are braver than I am,” Luo Yang explains. “They are doing things that I don’t have the courage to do.”
The photographer Janice Chung, raised as a child in a large Korean-American community in Queens, documented her mother’s return visit to Korea after decades in the US, while also soaking up new memories in her grandparents’ house. “The series Please Come Back Soon became about my mother’s reconnection with her family after many years of separation,” the artist says.
“When I went to Korea for the first time two years ago, I witnessed a side of my mom that I’d never seen. To me, she was my mom and nothing else, but in Korea, she was a daughter to her parents and an older sister to her brothers. During our two-month stay, I realized that she was just like me at one point in her life – young, naive, and full of ambition and dreams.”
Andria Lo and Valerie Luu started Chinatown Pretty (now a book) as a way celebrate the fashion of San Francisco’s Chinatown, particularly among stylish seniors from their grandparents’ generation. “We look for outfits that spark joy,” Luu explains. “There’s a certain je ne sais quoi in Chinatown seniors – often it involves unexpected outfits that play with bold colors, patterns and handmade or altered clothing and accessories.”
The Chinese-Dutch photographer Xiaoxiao Xu visited two villages in Shaanxi province in northcentral China to document a centuries-old religious ceremony called She Huo. “I left China at a young age,” the artist writes. “Through photography I feel like I can research my own background. By photographing this subject, I tried to learn more about the traditional culture and the people. And find out what it means to me personally.”
For her final project at the London College of Communication. the photographer Wei Wu embarked on a lone, 300-kilometer journey from the source of the Funan river in her hometown Chengdu in the Sichuan province of China to its mouth. “I was looking for answers, the question was about the river—where does it come from? Where does it go?” she tells Feature Shoot.
“Nobody thought I could do this—my parents thought it was impossible. They suggested I tell the tutor that I did this without really walking the entire length. But I’m a serious person, I don’t tell lies. Where the two rivers meet, I thought to myself, demonstrates that all rivers are the same. Our life never stops.”
After encountering Tri An Lake by happenstance, the Vietnamese photographer Duy Phuong Le Nguyen started documenting daily life in the communities surrounding the lake, where locals face increased pressure from rising water levels. The artist says, “I immersed myself in the waters, carried away by its currents, the way a stranger immerses himself in the life of the local people, carried away by the intimacy and confidence they shared with me.”
In his project A Distant Land, the Latino-Japanese photographer Ricardo Nagaoka explores the Japanese immigrant experience in Paraguay, where he was born, during a period of generational transition. “I am not searching for answers, but rather reflecting on the need to preserve my own Japanese heritage,” he says. “This body of work continues to expand as I try to define what cultural individuality means in a world going through rapid globalization.”
The Japanese artist Hiroaki Hasumi pays homage to his homeland and its rich artistic heritage by photographing cherry blossoms in Fukushima,Yamanashi, Ibaraki, and near home in Saitama, before overlaying them with the gold powder. Throughout this body of work, Hiroaki holds fast to what makes his country of origin special, driven by an unshakable longing not to forget the meaning of home.
“I’ve been longing for the sea since my childhood, when my family lived in a village about 40 kilometers from the nearest seaside,” the Chinese photographer Zhangxiao says. His series Coastline takes us on a dreamlike journey along the seaside, while tracing the past, present, and future of these communities amid a rapidly changing economy. “The sea is the beginning of lives and dreams, at the same time,” the artist writes. “I am looking for a hometown in my heart.”
The Argentinian-American-Korean photographer Michael Vince Kim illuminates the legacy of Korean-Mexicans and Korean-Cubans, who journeyed from Korea to Mexico, where many found a life of indentured servitude in Henequen plantations. Some then fled to Cuba, chasing the fading promise of the sugar cane industry.
“It’s one of those tragic episodes of modern Korean history that are often overlooked and increasingly forgotten in recent generations,” he says. “Considering the economic success of South Korea today, it can be odd for the outside world to link the country with war, poverty, and tragedy, but people as young as my parents lived through this.”
The Chinese photographer Jiehao Su, who won the inaugural Feature Shoot Emerging Photography Awards in 2014, explores a country in transition through his series Borderlands, created along the coastline of the Yangtze River as well as China’s southeastern coastline. “What is home?” he wonders. “This is a question I as a Chinese person cannot help but ask.
“It is also a question that a whole generation in China who has left the homeland they have lived in for centuries would ask. Most of the people in the photos are strangers. I encounter people in public places, such as parks, campuses and riverbanks. Taking these portraits to me is almost like taking self-portraits.”
The award-winning Japanese street photographer Shin Noguchi looks closer to home in his tender portrayal of his father, following a diagnosis of Stage IV Lung Cancer. In 2017, the photographer told us, “When I click my Leica, I’m sending a quiet message to him: ‘please don’t die, Dad!’”
Born and raised in New York, the photographer Thomas Holton, whose Chinese roots come from his mother’s side, tells the story of the Lams, a family living in Manhattan’s Chinatown, over the course of a decade. “I began the Lams of Ludlow Street during my first year in graduate school as a way to better understand my own Chinese heritage and explore the amazing neighborhood that is Chinatown,” he explains.
“It began as a more ‘traditional’ documentary project capturing street moments, but I wanted to get behind closed doors to see what life was really like. What I have truly learned from this experience is the importance of family, and how challenging raising a family is, regardless of race or religion.”
Born in Henan province, China, the photographer Shi Yangkun explores the idea of Solastalgia, or a feeling of homesickness that takes place in one’s own home. “There is no Chinese translation, and yet it is what I experience every time I return from studying abroad or in another province,” he says. “I realise my past memories and the current realities don’t match.
“China is undergoing a very fast-paced period of development and it’s hard to keep up. Every time I return to my home town, I witness a great change, in the people I once knew, in the environment, but also in myself. As an individual living in society, this is my personal story, and it constitutes a segment of Chinese history. This project is about the young Chinese generation who have found themselves delving into memories and refiguring identities in a country that is changing beyond recognition.”
Han Youngsoo was one of a few photographers to have documented a period of significant change in Korea throughout the last half-century. Though he has since passed away, Feature Shoot interviewed his daughter, Han Sunjung, about her father’s legacy. “Of course, the Korea of my father’s day and the present Korea are connected,” she says. “Just as my father and I cannot be torn apart, my father’s Korea and my present-day Korea are connected by history.”