Thomas Sauvin hails from France, and has been living inChina for years. Sauvin does not think he is an artist.Instead, he recognizes himself as a curator, collector,and archivist.
When he first came to China, he became interested in historicalphotos of China, and began collecting some albums. In 2009,Sauvin met a guy named Ma by chance, who was working in therecycling zone in Beijing and specialized in recycling trash thatcontained silver nitrate. The trash usually consisted of x-rays fromhospitals, CDs, and also negatives. Ma put everything in a pool ofliquid acid and waited for a week until the silver nitrate subsided.He then collected the silver nitrate and sold it to chemists.
Sauvin was heartbroken to see this as a photography collector.He decided to ask Ma to sell the negatives to him by the kilo. Thefirst time, Ma sold him a huge bag of negatives weighing almost50kg. From then on, Ma called Sauvin every one or two monthswhen he found negatives. Over the following four years, Sauvincontinued collecting all the negatives from Ma, and has nowamassed over 650,000. It is the “Beijing Silvermine”.
Unedited Portrait of China
Of all the negatives, the earliest can be dated back to the early1980s, and most were taken before 2005, when digital camerasreplaced film in China. Beijing Silvermine is a unique documentationof changes in the lives of ordinary residents in Beijing.Through the large-scale collection, Sauvin began to unveil anunedited portrait of China across twenty years since the beginningof reform and opening-up.
Since January 11, 2014, Beijing Silvermine has been ondisplay at the 4A Center for Contemporary Asian Art in Sydney.The exhibition aimed to create a real-life experience for the audience,with photos revealing changes in material goods, entertainment,the landscape of the city, and ordinary lives of the residentsin Beijing across twenty years. The unedited photos of ordinarypeople easily evoked memories and offered an impressive experiencefor spectators.