Them #6 (or They Recorded "For the Future")

Hai Bo (b. 1962)
Them #6 (or They Recorded "For the Future")
China, Modern period
Two chromogenic development prints
a) image 60.2 x 86.8 cm.; b) image 60.2 x 83.0 cm.
Museum purchase, Fowler McCormick, Class of 1921, Fund; gift of the P.Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Center for East Asian Art


Hai Bo was born in Jilin province and learned printmaking before studying as a woodcarver at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, graduating in 1987. He only began making photographs in 1999 when he produced his Them and They series in which he restaged group portraits of mostly family and friends. Them #6 (or They Recorded "For the Future") combines past and present-day studio portraits of the same group of sixteen women. One portrait enlarges a studio photograph, dated 1973, that was produced during the Cultural Revolution and inscribed "For the future." This image confronts Hai Bo's group portrait of the same women taken twenty-six years later, in 1999.

For Hai Bo, "More significant than art is our experience of life and time," and it is this social, cultural, and historical passage of time that permeates his photographs of then and now. Beyond evoking reminiscences, these paired photographs assert the beginnings of a Chinese aesthetic into the art of photography. In the traditional study of Chinese painting past models and styles are copied or duplicated in a process that produces a new artistic synthesis. The act of creation can said to be absent, or it can be said to be inherent in the very process of reinterpreting or rereading the past. Similarly, in Hai Bo's paired images, a past moment captured on film is reinterpreted. A group portrait is enlarged beyond former expectations and is juxtaposed beside a present-day restaging, and anticipated future restagings. The pairing reflects the past, present, and expectant future as a synthetic rereading of history within what Hai Bo describes as the "fragrance of time."

Further Readings

Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art from the Sigg Collection (Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantze, 2005), pp. 188-89.