In December 2007, during her third extended visit to Beijing, Helen Couchman photographed a large group of Chinese workers engaged in construction work in preparation for the 2008 Olympic Games. Couchman chose a specific group of labourers, those building the vast bird’s nest stadium and swimming pool. The 143 portraits that resulted each show a single worker standing in front of these incredible structures, looking calmly, confidently and directly into Couchman’s lens.
But although she has photographed 143 individual men and women working at the Olympic site, the artist has, in a certain sense, taken only a single portrait, that of the worker engaged in making the Place of the Games. This location is, by definition, at the very heart of what has been regarded by many, both in the East and in the West, as the greatest event in China’s history since the Communist Revolution of 1949.
An important feature of these photographs is that, irrespective of their archival value, they were taken without involving the authorities. Couchman simply asked the workers themselves if they were willing to be photographed. What these pictures exemplify, then, is an independent project of observation and recording. Taken over two successive days, they are the product of an approach that is both casual and accomplished, ordered and organised yet open to the particular moment of their unusual circumstance.
Each participant within WORKERS 工人 was asked to stand in roughly the same spot as all the others, with the Olympic stadium and pool clearly in view behind them. Couchman gave each worker a print of their own portrait for them to keep or to send home to their families outside Beijing. Thus the taking of these pictures involved a marked act of reciprocity and exchange. That Couchman supplied each individual with a copy of their portrait was significant and important, both for the artist and for the workers themselves. By this means Couchman addressed one of the most persistent functions of photography, that of establishing visual evidence, proof, in the present case, of having played a small but by no means insignificant part in something of major cultural, historical, and political importance for China, and for the West as well.
All 143 portraits in the WORKERS 工人 series and their signatures, names, and provinces are documented in a book. For more information see: www.soloshowpublishing.com
By Helen Couchman
Introduction by Peter Suchin, text in English/Chinese
Hardback, 152 pages, illustrated in colour, dimensions 2.5cm x 25.5cm x 21.5cm. 1kg
Produced by Soloshow Publishing with the kind support of Arup
First Edition, 2008
2007年12月，Helen Couchman再次来到北京的时候，她拍摄了一组数量较多的工作在2008奥运工程项目上的工人们。Couchman选择了那些建设鸟巢和水立方的一些 具有代表性的工人。这143幅肖像展示着每一位工人站在这些奇迹般的伟大建筑前，直接透过Couchman的镜头却是那么的平静，自信。
每一位参与拍摄的工人都几乎站在相同的地方，这背景无疑是鸟巢和水立方。 Couchman还赠送了每一位参与的工人一张洗出来的照片，工人们可以自己保留或者寄给外地的家人。这样看来这次拍摄活动是一次明显的互惠和互换活动。 无论是对艺术家自己抑或是那些工人来说，Couchman这种赠送每位参与者一张他们自己肖像照片的行为的意义是重大而深远的，通过这种方式 Couchman展示了摄影的一个最为持久的功能，它可以作为可视的证据和证明，以此为例，对于中国和西方的主流的文化，历史，与政治来讲，它似乎扮演者 一个微小但但又不失重要的角色。
硬封，152页，彩色，尺寸2.5cm x 25.5cm x 21.5cm. 1kg