Selfies aren’t a recent phenomenon, at least according to Shanghai-based photographer Sheila Zhao (China, b. ), the mind behind the found photography series – China Lost and Found. While collecting and curating old photographs from China’s 20th century, she learned that people have loved taking photographs of themselves since time immemorial.
These aren’t just any old photographs as well, as China’s history is filled with memories of tragedy and hardship, among other terrible things. Needless to say, her series, which has evolved further to reach audiences outside of the confines of Instagram, gives everyone a peek into the more intimate lives of those who lived during China’s Cultural Revolution, a usually forsaken but never forgotten side of history.
Sheila’s interest in exploring different themes is evident in her various projects. With @chinalostandfound, she wanted to share fascinating and unexpectedly unearthed photographs from China to the rest of the world, boundaries be damned. The appreciation of the unexpected and the unintentional rises to the surface with each image in the series; their charm natural, and the general appreciation well-deserved.
To be included in this series, each photograph had to strike Sheila with how visually interesting they are, whether through conventional beauty or an odder definition of the word. Continuity also helped: “For example, towards the beginning of [this project], I found a series of photographs featuring a single man. I gave him a fictitious name just for the fun of it (Old Ma), and posted those photos of him doing various things – from going swimming by the beach, to posing with objects around a room, to him taking a bath.” To put it simply, her goal is for more people to enjoy the photographs and in turn be reminded of that which binds humanity together.
All told, vernacular photography has always had a place in Sheila Zhao’s heart. Add to that her being based in China and her contacts who are involved in antiques, including her own father who is an avid antique collector, and the rest becomes history and adds to the nation’s already rich history. The series is aimed towards not only photography enthusiasts but also those who have an insatiable curiosity with the past.