here and now

‘Here and Now’ was a photographic portrait project commissioned by the Manchester Museum in 2022. The brief was to produce a set of portraits for the Chinese families and individuals in and around Greater Manchester area. The portraits would form part of the display for the new Lee Kai Hung Chinese Culture Gallery in the museum, which would re-open in February 2023 following a £15 million renovation as part of the hello future project.

For the commission, I worked as the photographer, but equally importantly, as a connection between the Chinese communities and the museum, and as part of the visionary for how the display would become. In short, I had the responsibility to represent ourselves. With credit to the museum, I had a lot of autonomy in my approaches. The first decisions would be about who and what to photograph. I had in-depth conversations with many Chinese families and peoples in Manchester, Liverpool, Preston, and wider areas in Lancashire. I reflected on my own experiences of living in Britain as a Chinese migrant. I attempted to find existing photographic representations of the Chinese communities in Britain. I maintained constant communication with the museum to learn about the new display’s themes, objects, and the space design.

The research led to several understandings. Firstly, even though people with Chinese heritage have lived in Britain for several hundred years, there has not been a substantial or systematic visual representation of us in the national archives. In other words, we remain ‘invisible’. Secondly, the Chinese communities are integrating very well, living in all areas of the country while occupying a wide range of careers. So I asked myself if I should photograph their ‘Chineseness’, or their ‘Britishness’. The answer was the latter since that would be more truthful and more inclusive. Meanwhile, I decided to photograph the sitters in the open and British landscape whenever possible--- to literally make us visible on this land. The project was therefore named as Here and Now, referring to the fact that we, the Chinese communities, are firmly here, now.

The shooting process was collaborative. The sitters were free to select the site---most chose a place of significance to them, for example, their gardens, places of family walks, the beach as the place of their arrival, and so on. I had a varied degree of inputs (mainly on the colours) in terms of what they would wear, and on the composition and the expression. The selection for the display was also a process of discussion between the sitters, the museum, the designer, and me.

It was heart-warming to see the pride on the sitters’ faces when they attended the spectacular reopening of the museum on 16 February 2023. A year on, nearly a million visitors have been to the museum. I feel a great sense of contentment having made a small yet positive contribution for the Chinese communities in Britain and for