Magnum Photos Blog
Ajax loader
Arrivals and Departures: Episode 5 – Beijing
July 19, 2012
by Jacob Aue Sobol
“I can’t live without you.”

The train takes me through the Gobi-desert, Inner Mongolia and the mountains before reaching Beijing. The landscape changes and so does the weather. From Winter to Spring. From -20 in Siberia to +20 in Beijing.

I’ve heard they are difficult to get close to – the Chinese. I find it hard to believe. Is it not always the same? The way you connect with people? To me it seems more difficult not to be close. I feel safe when I’m near other people. When I’m far away, I get lost and can’t feel anything, so therefore it’s natural for me to take one step closer. And so I do in Beijing.

In the streets I try not to make any rational decisions about what to photograph and what not. I do not have any rules. I take pictures of everything on my way: a tree, a building, a shadow, a person. Sometimes it takes me two hours to get down a street, because there are so many things to photograph and people to meet.

When I have photographed in the street for a few days, I begin to feel sad. Even though my images from the streets can be close, photographing people in their own home, surrounded by the things that belong to them and make them feel safe is a total different experience. When I have photographed someone like this, I feel I have an experience to share with that person for the rest of my life.

The most bizarre question I ever got from a journalist was from a photo- Magazine asking me if the figures in my images were mannequins. The mannequin-series, he called it. He simply did not believe that it was possible to photograph humans like this. But the people I photograph are real, and I look at them, and I try to find something that connects us. I try to find a piece of myself in them. I feel warm when I look at two people desperately holding on to each other, saying: “I can’t live without you.”

I admire all the people I take pictures of because they put themselves in a very vulnerable position. They trust me and I trust them, and it is important for me that there’s a mutual understanding of this. That we’re communicating in a way where it’s not just ‘me looking at them’, but there’s an exchange of emotions and life.