2019 #44

The Eighth Day

by Gao Shan

Selected by
Nicole Acheampong,
Editorial Assistant, Aperture Magazine


Selected by Nicole Acheampong,
Editorial Assistant, Aperture Magazine

“The images in Gao Shan’s The Eighth Day cradle an unsettled intimacy. With unblinking yet tender portraits, Shan hoists viewers into urgent proximity to his adoptive mother’s domestic rituals, body, and moods, as well as to the newfound vulnerability the pair navigate as compelling co-subjects before the camera’s lens.” - Nicole Acheampong

Eight days after he was born, Gao Shan was adopted. The Eighth Day - the artist’s award winning first photobook - explores the difficult relationship the artist has with his adoptive mother. Despite the two sharing a small apartment, there has always been an emotional distance between the pair. In a Q&A with Unseen Platform, Shan reveals how this project has helped to bring mother and son together.

Unseen Platform: What was your mother’s initial reaction when you began working on this project?

Gao Shan: My mother had asked me to photograph her in the past, but I refused. I began this project because I felt like I had neglected her. The first time I photographed my mother, she behaved very naturally – she didn’t pay attention to the camera, and continued to do her usual routines around our home.

Did you have an idea about what you wanted to achieve or convey before you began, and, if so, did you fulfill those goals or did something different emerge?

In the beginning, I didn't have a specific plan for the project. I slowly realised that taking these photographs couldn’t help me understand my mother any better. It was then that I put aside my identity as a photographer, and embraced my mother. These photographs made my mother feel my love, and because of The Eighth Day we have gotten closer to each other and established effective communication.

The images have (as far as we can tell) all been taken within your home and garden. What role did the domestic space along with your personal belongings play in the construction of the relationship between you and your mother?

My mother and I share a 70-square-meter apartment, so our living space is limited. Also, my mother doesn’t go out, which means I am only able to capture her doing a few simple, daily activities at home. There are benefits to shooting in this confined space – we can hear each other's breathing, and feel closer to each other.

How did the experience of photographing your mother in the intimate setting of your home affect your relationship with one another?

Our relationship changed as the project developed. At first, I just watched from the sidelines in the role of the artist, but I soon realised that this made me too detached from her. I decided I should put down this identity, and instead photograph my mother from the perspective of her child, and express my love for her. This was a big step, because I grew up in a family that was too shy to express love. After that, we understood each other better: my mother told me the story of her youth, and she also understood my photography.

How extensive was the process of arranging the images in the photobook? Was it something you took joy in, or was it difficult to piece together?

The compilation of the album took around one year. I took many photos in this time, and it was very difficult to select which ones would be part of the final photobook. I am very happy to finish this book at last.

Interview conducted by Georgie Sinclair and Jenny Willcock

About Nicole Acheampong

Nicole Acheampong is a writer based in New York and editorial assistant of Aperture magazine. She has written for Aperture Online and ThePhotoBook Review and holds a BA in comparative literature from Princeton University.

Read more (2 min read)

Photo of The Eighth Day by Gao Shan

Photo of The Eighth Day by Gao Shan

Photo of The Eighth Day by Gao Shan

Photo of The Eighth Day by Gao Shan

Photo of The Eighth Day by Gao Shan

Gao Shan

Anyang, CN

7557 21122857 1

Gao Shan

Anyang, CN

Gao Shan (b.1988, China) lives and works in Anyang, in China’s Henan province. His first photobook The Eighth Day is a candid portrayal of his adoptive mother completing her daily domestic routines. The book has gained critical acclaim, winning the New Talent Award in 2016 (which champions young Chinese artists), and the Paris Photo-Aperture Foundation award for “First Photobook” in 2019.

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