Born in Shanxi, a coal-mining province in North China, Ya’nan Li now lives and works in Beijing. With his series titled ‘The Festival of Insignificance’, Leica presents outstanding works by the young Chinese street and documentary photographer at Photofairs Shanghai from 8-10 September.

“Every street has its own special qualities and stories to tell. I love to anticipate this single moment and become one with it before I capture it with my camera. In doing this, I notice very subtle, tiny details”

In his pictures, he captures momentary impressions of life in various Chinese towns and major cities in a most impressive way. Despite the vast distances separating them, his series clearly illustrates how strongly linked the individual regions are in terms of color and patterns of behavior – each appears to be an element of one colorful and vibrant celebration of life. His work has already been honoured with numerous prizes in the USA and China, including the National Geographic Award. In 2014, he also took first place in the category “Black-and-White” in the Hamdan National Photography Contest in Dubai and was one of the finalists of the 158th Royal Photography Society International Print Exhibition.

Li, why did you decide to become a photographer?

It’s my passion that led me to be a photographer. I like this form of expression. I sometimes make fun of myself that I can’t do anything else but take pictures.

What has been your favorite photography project you have worked on to date?

My favorite photography project has to be the works from Syria. Due to human factors, it was also the most difficult project to realize, amongst all of my photography endeavors to date.

What is it about the genre of street photography that interests you the most?

What interests me most about street photography is the insight it offers into the state of different people’s everyday life, as well as the ability to add emotion to the images through the photographer’s use of shadow and color rendering.

How long have you been using Leica cameras?

I’ve been using Leica for more than two years.

Which Leica camera were you using for this series?

I used the newly released Leica M10.

Which lenses are you using?

I’m using the Summicron-M 35mm f/2 and the Summicron-M 50mm f/2.

Where was this particular series taken and was there a particular topic or theme you were trying to explore? How did your Leica equipment help you to achieve this?

This series was taken in many places throughout China such as the South, North-East and South-West. I didn’t have that much time, so I couldn’t explore very far. Therefore, I took pictures of different regions of China to enrich the context of the series. I mainly focused on expressing different feelings, which are prevalent in everyday life within the different regions. People of all ages tend to experience a sense of struggle or can’t help but give in to their lives at some point over the course of time. I tried my best not to affect the subjects when taking the photographs. I wanted to present them naturally and my Leica M10 helps me with that. I could take pictures without people realizing. Having learnt my way around the manual focus and manual exposure of the Leica M System, I can almost photograph without looking at the viewfinder. A lot of the images in this series were shot in this way.

Your photos in this series are incredibly colorful. What are your thoughts about color in photography and how important is this in your work?

I think color is hard to control. When it is used in pictures properly, the pictures will be excellent, or else they will look a mess. The color of this series benefits from the color of the locations. When it appears, you should capture it. But you should always select what to shoot from an aesthetic point of view when taking pictures. The color results of the photographs shot with my Leica M10 is one of the reasons I like it so much, and it always creates the results that I want.

In addition to color, your photos play with compositional lines and shadow to create abstraction. How do you recognize an opportunity for a photograph?

I mentioned before that color and shadow are the most important elements in my images. I often try to find good color and shadow when taking pictures. Shadow can drive the rhythm of the frame and can therefore better express the feeling of the photo. I often consciously search for this kind of shadow rhythm. You need to always keep discovering new things and practice a lot, so that catching the shape and rhythm of shadows and color becomes easier.

Most photos in this series are extremely candid in nature. Is this an important aspect of your style? 

Yes, I hope it occurs naturally in the realization of my ideas into images. In fact, I go out of my way to capture this kind of natural feeling.


To see more of Ya’nan Li’s photography you can visit his Instagram

To find out more about the Photofairs Shanghai you can visit their website

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