of Frank Rothe
At 19 years old, I decided to travel in Africa. I went to Kenya and then to Egypt where I met a Brazilian who invited me to travel to Asia. I left Cairo for Bangkok. It was 1992, and Bangkok was dirty, interesting and full of life. We traveled on to Thailand and then Hong Kong from here I traveled to China. I took a night ferry from Hong Kong. When I woke up the following day, I saw China on the horizon. I remember this image very well. The grey outline of the coast with red flags, as if I was watching a film in black and white on an old television set.
Once my passport was stamped, there I was in China, the colors however were all still the same. At this time, China was a country in a grey uniform. A decade later and all this has disappeared. China has become the economic powerhouse of Asia, even Japan does not play such an important role. The grey has disappeared, only returning when the wind blows from the direction of China’s industrial cities, something that even the colors of the new shops and restaurants cannot even fight against.
The Chinese dragon is awake. This country that invented pasta long before the Italians new how to cook has the worlds’ eyes on it. Who are the Chinese? Are they that much better at working than the rest of the world? Do they ever sleep? Are they the most intelligent people on the planet? What do they think? How do they feel, and what are their plans for the future? All of these questions drove me to do my project “Naked China”. I wanted to photograph the people here naked to show that for all their power, that there is not a lot of difference to a Chinese person and the rest of us.
This was my reason to return to China, after my long absence. However what I did not know, was that the Chinese never show themselves naked in front of a camera. I asked for the help of my Chinese friends, who replied at my arrival in Beijing “Frank, you will never find a Chinese person ready to pose nude in front of your camera”. They had also already tried, only being allowed to photograph naked breasts, and for the most part those of their own sisters. I knew none of this, therefore it took me a lot of time to assemble 21 Chinese people of different ages and sexes. Firstly I interested myself only in photographing there naked bodies. I asked them to leave their clothes on the floor, so at the end they could all see how they looked when they came into the studio.
During the same period I photographed the suburbs of Beijing and of Shanghai to show the frenzy of activity in their surroundings. In my life, I have traveled very much, but I have never seen a country where the houses seem to grow like mushrooms or where the people ask for their doctors for drugs by videophone.
It is clear that the big Chinese Dragon is eating everything at this moment, and is growing at a frightening speed. What is tragic is that the Chinese are not getting anytime to think about their way of life. They run to buy the latest refrigerators and suchlike. This is understandable, when you have never had things like this, you have to have them right now! I do not blame them, I grew up in Eastern Europe with a desire to have these sort of things and had to wait for the fall of the Berlin wall to get them. Once they have all these things (something that took time elsewhere), will it be possible to go back to their roots? After you have adapted to Western values, you discover that these do not give you everything you dreamed.
Finally, I produced the first work in the world capturing the Chinese naked. There are no other projects like this at the present. I also learnt that the Chinese do need to sleep, that yes they work a lot harder and longer than the rest of us. What makes them so strong however is the sheer size of their population. There is always someone waiting to take your place if you get worn out.