2009 - 2016
After Mao was created in 2009 after coming across an article about a photographic retoucher who was most known for working on Mao’s portraits since the late 1940’s, long before photography became digital. Some of the portraits he helped shape was Mao on the 100 Yuan bill and Mao’s iconic photographic portrait (rendered as an oil painting) which visitors encounter as they enter the Forbidden City. Intrigued with how he processed portraits to emphasize and alter meaning, I had met him. And we talked about the sunrise in his iconic Mao portrait and how his eyes were made to look at you from wherever you stood. After our meeting, two projects materialized - Sunrise (2011) a photographic portrait that explored symbolism, color and the absence of the figure and After Mao (2009-2016) a portrait study that analyzed composition and identity from the perspective of the laowai (foreigner).
After Mao is a photographic and narrative portrait series that profiles 130 internationals residing in a rapidly changing China. It began right after the 2008 Olympics with all its fervor. People arrived from across the globe to realize dreams, learn, and become a part of the community. And the series ended during a time where the tenor and landscape had changed. Being an expat, I chose to explore China and also the rest of the world through the angle of the international. These stories describe one’s journey living in a new culture. For some, it was a journey filled with adventures, human connection, and self-discovery, where some people learned how to live comfortably in the “uncomfortable”. After Mao also navigates heritage and nationality in relation to China, making this series more of a global conversation.
After Mao Collective 2009-2016 © CYJO
Born 1966 in Beijing – Grew up and lives in Beijing
I have many Chinese friends, and my Chinese friends always accept me as Chinese. But as a kid and the only foreigner in my grade, I was a toe-head, bleach blonde who stood out in the crowd. People were very friendly in Beijing, especially in those days when there were hardly any foreigners. We had Chinese friends, but in the 60’s, during the Cultural Revolution, people were careful when associating with foreigners. We still hung out together at school, and I visited my schoolmate’s homes. As a foreigner, there were plenty of limits though. If you rode your bicycle towards the Summer Palace for example, there were a couple of roads you couldn’t pass. Posted signs would read, “No foreigners beyond this point”. Not to mention that there were many compounds foreigners couldn’t enter. Walking down any street, there was always someone looking at me because I looked different.
I got into the movie industry by sheer chance...A lady named Marge told me there was a movie going on in Guangzho, the first big western production ever to shoot in China, “Tai-Pan” with Joan Chen. I went and got a job on the movie crew as a translator. The following year I was hired on “The Last Emperor” as a coordinator in the Art Department. I hired a few of my art school classmates to create the paintings and calligraphy needed for set decorating. Right afterwards, I joined the assistant directors team on “Empire of the Sun”. So 3 big movies in a row! I was hooked, I stopped art school and naturally went into film.
In 1988, I moved to California and worked on more films – working on animation, gripping, camera assisting, etc. After thinking I could do a better job on some story boards I saw, and also learning that the pay was 3 times more than my usual jobs, I transitioned into storyboarding in 1994. In Hollywood, I ended up working on “Mr. & Mrs. Smith”, “Alien 4” and “Bourne Identity”. That led me to thinking about directing my own projects.
I miss disappearing completely in the crowd, which was what liberated me when I first went to the States in 1988. I do like the individualism in America. My family is from CA. It’s a great state with incredible nature, forests, food, etc. I miss their avocados. And when you’re there, if you want to get something done, you pick up the yellow pages and do it. In China, you need to know someone to get things done. If I have a plumbing problem, I call the guy that built my place, and he brings somebody. There are no yellow pages here. There’s something sweet and nice about it at the same time. You get along with them, and it feels good to know that many people. There's a sense of belonging. I do miss the straight forwardness of America though.
America is still very white right now. But if you look at CA, for example, you realize that in another decade the majority of the population may also know how to speak Spanish. We have to embrace that America is a nation of immigrants, and Americans need to morph with the changing America.
Edited Narrative from 2010
After Mao | Andy Friend 2010 © CYJO
Born 1981 in Paris – Grew up in France and The Netherlands
Moved to China in 2010, Lives in Shanghai
I moved to China to explore my roots and work on two documentaries, one on my Chinese maternal grandmother, Shui Shifang, and the other on my Dutch maternal grandfather, Robert Van Gulik.
The documentary I worked on by Dutch filmmaker Rob Rombout is about my grandfather who helped show the best of Chinese culture to the west. Robert Van Gulik’s influence runs deep, so much so that there is a college course on him at a major Shanghai university. He is well known for writing his detective stories of Judge Dee, which is based on a real life judge who stood for justice during the Tang Dynasty.
A lot of my grandfather’s writing was on traditional Chinese culture that was either forgotten or unknown to the west. This included writing on the guqin (traditional Chinese lute) and the gibbon (a type of Chinese ape known to be able to transfer chi), both which served as inspiration to the Chinese literati. Robert Van Gulik also wrote about the richness and beauty of sexual life in ancient China. He talked about how this was a healthy part of life and ultimately part of the cosmos. He brought many key points across through his texts, saying that culture is not a dead piece that belongs in a museum. It’s something to be practiced and enjoyed. It’s not something you can learn from a book. It’s something to be experienced.
I’ve spent many years promoting Dutch culture through various creative platforms, and I’m very proud of the Netherlands. It’s an extremely creative country, very much outside of the box, very entrepreneurial, forward thinking, tolerant, open-minded...and it has a sense of humor. If there is no answer to something, we’ll create one and find a solution. The country’s enormous willpower and smart government has propelled such a small country with a population of 16 million people to become a big personality that’s affected the rest of the world.
In addition to my Dutch side, there is also my French side as my father is a French citizen. He was born in France and is ethnically half Dutch. He lived in Hong Kong for a while and is also a big fan of China. I was also born and raised in Paris until the age of 4 and attended French school in Holland. Although there are certain similarities and links that the Dutch have with China historically, France and China’s links are also very present.
With so many cultures ingrained in my identity (I went to University in London for a few years), it was difficult for me to resonate completely with only one culture. Growing up, I didn’t know the latest in the Dutch film industry or who all the famous French pop singers were. I wanted to just fit in and be like every other kid around me. But now, I wouldn’t change my past for anything. Growing up with Dutch, French, British and Asian influences has brought so much meaning to my life, which facilitated my ability to speak comfortably in 4 languages and be more connected to the world.
Edited Narrative from 2014