“I have a strong connection with the alienating, elusive and enchanting,” says photographer Xiaoxiao Xu. At the age of 14, Xiaoxiao immigrated from the large port city of Wenzhou in China to The Netherlands – a move which has shaped her perspective as a photographer and a theme which she continues to explore all these years later.
Xiaoxiao initially began to use photography as means to translate the stories she wanted to tell: “I moved a lot when I was little and constantly changing places and languages was confusing so urged me to find another medium to express my feelings. When I first got into photography, everything fell into place and I immediately knew it was the right medium for me.”
Now, those early feelings of confusion are what form the basis of Xiaoxiao’s work. “I have learned to observe both the East and West from a distance. I am as much an insider and an outsider, uprooted, unidentified and estranged from both sides,” she writes on her website. By utilising this state of being in-between, capturing the people, places and objects that she finds alienating, Xiaoxiao’s photographs help her strike a balance.
Throughout her photographic career, Xiaoxiao has travelled back and forth between China and Europe several times. The first of which led to her series Wenzhou. Located in the eastern province of Zhejiang and with a population of three million, Wenzhou was Xiaoxiao’s home before leaving China. “I was overwhelmed by the changes and the combination of memories and contemporary experiences,” she recalls. Wenzhou depicts the city “through the lens of my personal and emotional experience” Xiaoxiao adds, as well as creating an homage to the place where she was born and partially raised.
Aesthetically, Xiaoxiao’s work is tranquil and quiet, full of considered and intimate moments. “I like to make images that make the viewer wonder if there’s more going on than what you see at first sight,” she explains, “I like images that leave space for the viewer to freely interpret, photos that evoke people’s imagination, that lure them to look over and over and dream away.”
These intentions can be seen throughout Xiaoxiao’s portfolio which continues on from that first trip to Wenzhou. She subsequently visited the towns surrounding the city in The Sequel to discover more about her roots and the places that many of the Chinese immigrants in The Netherlands originally came from. Later it was Chinese farmers who build their own aircraft that caught Xiaoxiao’s attention and in her current, ongoing project she is documenting over 25,000 km of the The Great Wall of China and the life she encounters on the way.
“Photography, for me, is more than a passion or an obsession; it is an instinct and a necessity,” she remarks, concluding that, “my series’ have made me more aware of myself and my own position in the world.”
About the Author
Ruby joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in September 2017 after graduating from the Graphic Communication Design course at Central Saint Martins. In April 2018, she became a staff writer and in August 2019, she was made associate editor.