In 2004, Henan Charity General Federation and Shaolin Temple launched a campaign to provide financial support to 1,036 orphans under 16 years old until they come of age.

As a documentation of and social investigation into this gesture of love and kindness, Archives on Orphans follows 12 individuals in their uncommon and diverse walks of life across a decade. Visiting the orphans once every five years between 2004 to 2014, the collection of images charts the destiny of each child into young adulthood.


Long-term Social Documentary (Artist Talk)
20 Oct, Sat
3 – 4:30pm

Guided Tour for Archives on Orphans
21 Oct, Sun
3 – 4pm
Esplanade Tunnel

About the Artist
Jiang Jian (b. 1953, Kaifeng, China) is drawn to the faces of the poor and the outcast, the forgotten individuals who make up China’s masses. Growing up in a remote village to which his father was banished during the Cultural Revolution, he had never seen a camera until he found a job with a national project documenting folk art.

Inspired by August Sander’s attempt to create a photographic “atlas” of German society, Jiang Jian compiles portfolios of posed portraits on social themes: peasants, itinerant storytellers, construction workers. When he learned of a charity’s plan to provide support for 1000 orphans until they reached adulthood, he volunteered to photograph them all.

The result was The Orphan Files (2004), in which each child is presented in black and white alongside an enlarged colour “portrait” of his identity papers. The outsized documents seem to reduce the children to statistics: name, age, birthplace, cause of parents’ death. The featureless black backgrounds underscore their lack of social support or loving embrace. The uniformity of composition, with the children standing alone before the camera, makes them appear almost interchangeable. Yet these subtle tactics also guide the viewer’s eye to stance, posture, clothing, facial expression: flickers of individuality shining through the gloom.