Interview by Kathleen Graulty
As artists and as a couple, Wenjun Chen and Yanmei Jiang, decided to share their life with the world. "Me and Me" documents their relationship as individuals and together as one. The project began unconsciously, later growing into a 7 year story.
At the beginning, photos were like a bridge
to connect memories, feelings,
Your project "Me and Me" is a compilation of stories from 2007-2014. Tell us how it came about.
As we were both photographers, we were used to shooting photos about daily life casually and some photos about one another and both of us. After the rise of social media, we were used to shooting photos by mobile phone and posting them on social media. We had a lot of fun when doing that. At that time, we didn't plan to compile these photos to be a project. Later in 2014, we had an exhibition of the photos we posted on social media. After that we thought we should organize these photos more seriously, which was a good way to make us look back on oneself and the relationship. And later we shot more photos together and wrote some words about what we thought, we went further and named the project "Me and Me".
Most of your images show togetherness and a relationship that reveals love and happiness. Was there ever a time you documented a disagreement or challenge in your relationship? Was there ever a time you documented intimacy?
It seems we rarely took photos when we were in a quarrel; we expressed these in words in the project. When we were shooting the group photos, we were sometimes in a quarrel too, because we had different ideas. It was hard for us to put different ideas of us into one group photo, so we decided to shoot separately. Some group photos are based on her ideas, and some are based on mine. Similar situations happened when we were editing photos, so there are two separate parts: Yanmei Jiang In My Eyes and Wenjun Chen In My Eyes, and two separate parts of words. We documented intimacy, photos could be found in the project.
In what ways has the project affected your relationship? Would you say it has helped with communication? If so, please explain.
The project first gave us a chance to look back on oneself and the relationship, and say something truly to oneself and one another. The photos were like a bridge, connecting memories, feelings of communication, they made the communication begin naturally and progress smoothly. With words, we had more precise information from each other. When we were shooting group photos, we communicated more about what feelings about the relationship we wanted to express. Though sometimes, communication became a quarrel.
What has been the most difficult part of this process? What has been the most satisfying?
We think the most difficult part was putting two different ideas into one, so we made separate parts in the project. In this way, we could express what we would like to express and would not interrupt one another. It was the most satisfying thing when we could express something truly to oneself and another one.
In a previous interview you spoke of your travels as a result of your feelings. Please elaborate. What were those feelings? Did it help each of you find what you were looking for?
We were confused about life and work in 2014, and wondering about some changes, but we didn't know what exactly we would like to do. Then we quit our jobs at the end of 2014, started traveling in South East Asia and later in United States. We went sightseeing in South East Asia, and finished a road trip and "US Family Photo Project" in US. We stayed in local family homes and took photos of them. Meanwhile we kept shooting "Me and Me" on the trip. We were trying to meet people living in a society different from our culture, different from China. We got a lot from the trip, we were interested in different lives in a different society, and began an new idea about how we live in a different society with local people. It may be the continuation of "Me and Me". We are planning to implement the idea now and maybe we will come to US again soon in the future :)
How does it feel sharing your individual perceptions of your relationship with the outside world?
When we posted photos on social media, we thought it is a natural thing and we had fun. Later we became more serious about the project. We expressed more individual perceptions, showing the project in an exhibition and publication. At first we felt embarrassed, but later we felt better, we thought it was precious to truly say something. We plan to do similar projects with others; we would like to connect others, not only the two of us.
It usually takes us about one month to finish
one handmade book.
You created a beautiful, intricate handmade book of "Me and Me" in a small edition of 10. Why and when did you decide to produce a book? How long does it take to make 1 book?
We decided to make a book when we began the project because we thought the project was like a diary or autobiography including many photos and words, many parts. It would take time to read the project, which we liked. It usually takes us about one month to finish one handmade book.
Describe yourselves as individuals who use photography as a tool for communication.
At the beginning, photos were like a bridge to connect memories, feelings, and communication. Later we communicated when doing photography (photographing) together. We found diverse photos made us see diverse perspectives (how I see myself, how she sees herself, how I see her, how she sees me, and how we see the relationship). The diverse perspectives improved communication.
Have you worked on other projects as a couple? If so, tell us more.
We did another project together before, about a historic neighborhood under urbanization named "En Ning". Each of us documented the people who still lived there.