Shanghai’s migrant workers are the foundation of China’s economy, ferrying goods around the city on their bicycle. But if these photos of them look impossible, that’s because they are. Their loads have been digitally increased as part of a photo project on the Chinese economy and global consumerism.
Many outsiders looking in at China tend to focus on the group over the individual: the factory floors, the crowded classrooms, the high-speed trains, and the gleaming skyscrapers built to efficiently accommodate and maximize value from a rather homogenous group of people. On the other hand, French photographer Alain Delorme, decided to zero in on the individual in his series Totems–specifically, Shanghai’s migrants who bear the physical brunt of the fast-paced economy by hauling wares on their bikes and carts, like improvised trucks.
Compared to the typical symbols that stand in for China’s economic growth in photographs, “these migrants are even more impressive,” Delorme says, appearing “in the first place like a superhero able to carry around this kind of load. But, very quickly, we have the feeling that the objects he is carrying are about to swallow him up, that he is overwhelmed by them … just like the consumer is.”
Delorme alters the photos with Photoshop to exaggerate the loads his subjects carry and heighten that sense of consumption. “To what extent can we play with reality to get the viewer to ask questions?” He says the works investigate globalization and consumerism. “But it is above all a way to make people think about the consumer society we live in via the ‘Made in China’ phenomenon, with all its identical and exchangeable objects produced in big quantities.”
Doing its bidding, the migrants are a stand in for global consumer society at large. In Delorme’s words. “[W]e are the servants of all these objects that we desire and wish to own, prompted by adverts.”