About the Photographer
French, b. 1983
For the past three years, collector Thomas Sauvin has visited a Beijing recycling center each month and purchased color negatives for the value of the silver they contain, effectively rescuing discarded filmstrips from being melted down for silver nitrate. To date Sauvin has accumulated over a half a million photographic color negatives and has obsessively digitized each one to create an archive. Each Silvermine album features select thematic groupings of photographs from the archive; one album exclusively features snapshots including the image of Marilyn Monroe or Ronald Reagan while another features people on vacation or at the work place. The images are mostly snapshots taken by unknown photographers that were made within a twenty-year period—from the early 1980s when 35 mm color film became popular in China to the early 2000s as consumer digital camera became ubiquitous. Thus, Beijing Silvermine can be read as a unique portrait of China’s capital city from the end of the Cultural Revolution to the country’s rise in the global economy. Sauvin has discovered that the majority of the vernacular pictures document life’s important occasions— “Kodak Moments” such as babies being born, family gatherings, weddings, and visits to Tiananmen Square—while other images contain markers of prosperity and modernization that, when taken together, trace the rise of national consumerism and global tourism. Pictures of people standing in front of their new refrigerator or television or posing with the masses next to Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa at the Louvre in Paris, point to China’s post-socialist era and deepening engagement with global culture.
Thomas Sauvin considers himself a curator and collector, rather than an artist. His collections have appeared in exhibitions across China, the United Kingdom, and the United States, including the Caochangdi Photo Festival, Beijing (2012), The Singapore International Photo Festival (2012), FORMAT Photo Festival, Derby, UK (2013), and The Salt Yard, Hong Kong (2013). Sauvin’s photographic archive project, Beijing Silvermine, received the New Photography Award of the Year at the Lianzhou International Photography Festival, Lianzhou, Guangdong, China in 2013. A limited, five-album edition of his Silvermine project was nominated for Best Photobook at the 6th International Fotobook Festival, Kassel, Germany (2013). Sauvin has worked as a consultant for the UK-based Archive of Modern Conflict since 2006.