China Lost and Found is part of HP's original documentary project, History of Memory, which celebrates the power of printed photos.
French photo editor and collector Thomas Sauvin’s treasure hunt took him down a dusty lane, through a low gateway and into a grimy recycling plant on the industrial outskirts of Beijing. Then living in China, he was searching for photographs taken by ordinary Chinese citizens when a tip from a chemical recycler led him storeroom filled with piles of discarded negatives of 35mm film. “I started looking at them and they were negatives of photographs taken by everyday people, in huge quantities,” Sauvin says in China Lost and Found, a new short film by directors Sarah Klein and Tom Mason. The film is the latest in HP’s History of Memory series about the ways printed images have the power to shape the stories of our lives.
Back at his studio, Sauvin realized the richness of the discovery. “At first the photos seemed quite common and banal, but the more negatives I looked at, they started to tell a story of China very different from every other picture taken by journalists and published in books,” he says. The scratched and faded negatives revealed pictures of families making funny faces at amusement parks, smiling women posing next to shiny new refrigerators and guests drinking and dancing at wedding celebrations. Mostly taken in the 1980s and 1990s during a time of explosive growth and massive social disruption, the images focused on intimate, carefree, everyday moments of joy and delight for Chinese families.