Not every house is a home. A home is more than four walls and a roof, a chair and a bed, a fridge and a TV. 'Home' mainly involves an atmosphere and a feeling that might not be recognized until it isn't there anymore. Ever been homesick? That notion of home is universal. A home provides a sense of security, trust, warmth: it's a place to relax and become inspired.
What began as a chance encounter with Asia in 2005 grew into a heartfelt admiration of the Chinese countryside and deep respect for its inhabitants. Between 2005 and 2010, I crisscrossed the whole of China—from the Amur to the Mekong, and from the coast to the outer limits of the Xinjiang region, across the Central Plains and along the fringes of the Tibetan Plateau, down to the valleys of the mountainous South. The simple life that takes place around the kitchen table has always fascinated me more than the frenzied activity of big cities. To me, the last village at the end of the narrowest by-road has always had a special attraction. Especially in such remote villages, I've come across the most unusual people. Their houses amazed and inspired me. In them I felt at home for awhile...if only in my dreams.
My travels never follow a predetermined route but are, instead, shaped by intuition and by things that occur along the way: by roads that appeal to me, people whom I meet, stories that I hear. In my diaries I've described some of those. They chronicle my journeys and convey my affection for this country and its people. China is a beautiful and friendly country, where many things take place at the same time. Every step will take you through centuries of history.
My photographs provide no general, documentary view of China. Each one tells about an individual's life in the Chinese countryside. Despite the explosive growth of cities, the majority of China's population continues to live here, in rural areas. And as far as the cities are concerned, certainly most of today's urban dwellers were born in the countryside. Living spaces like these can be found all over China. Rapid urbanization has brought considerable change, but it will still take many years for this typical rural life to disappear. Over the last two years, the appeal of industrial centers along the coast has declined somewhat. At the same time—due to that same free economy and soaring food prices—the farmer's prosperity has risen. Improvements in the infrastructure have also caused smaller and moderately sized industries to establish headquarters in more local centers of population. This, of course, does bring modern furnishings and equipment to the rural areas. However, 'owing' a refrigerator does not necessarily mean 'using' it, since many electrical appliances don't appear to be hooked up. One reason might be an insufficient power supply in the village, another a lack of money for the electrical bill. But perhaps, too, the reason is that people were always able to get by without it. Now and then the familiar thrifty way of life still beats the modern ideal.
I have profound respect for my highly diverse hosts and hostesses. They find their ways in a world which is changing all around them at a staggering pace, yet scarcely take part in these changes themselves. This immense respect gives an extra dimension to my photographs. What moves me in these houses is not bare aesthetics, but the instrinsic beauty of a personal and dignified life.
Many of my interiors attest to frugal living conditions: inhabitants who, with little means, convey their personalities in these spaces. In my photographs I focus on this dignity and sense of self. The photographs tell a tale of generations of inhabitants. Their homes that have been so lived-in say infinitely more to me than the properties of the well-to-do.
The decision to photograph these particular houses has been a personal one. In that sense these images are not only portraits of those who've lived in them; indirectly they also say something about me. All of the interiors appear just as I encountered them. Nothing was altered by me. Gradually the image comes to life in the often scarce amount of available light. Ultimately everything here is about time.