Photographer Adrian Fisk traveled 2,700 kilometers across China and India to discover that most young people are, in essence, exactly the same.
While living in India, Fisk realized he knew nothing about young people in the nearby country of China, and neither did anyone else in India. Fisk dug deeper into the subject and came across the staggering fact that there are 1.2 billion people between the ages of 16 and 30 years old in China and India.
“I wanted to find out what these young people thought,” said Fisk, 41, who is currently in London. “If I found out what was in these people’s minds, I figured I would get an idea of where our world is headed at this pivotal time.”
Fisk wanted his project to be a voice for these young people that the rest of the world knew little about.
He started his photo project “iSpeak” in China in 2008. The project consists of portraits of Chinese men and women between the ages of 16 and 30 in their natural environments. Each would hold up a white sign on which they would write a message expressing their worldviews or desires.
In 2010, Fisk expanded the iSpeak project to India. In the meantime, the project went viral back in China as blogs and major media outlets started discussing its significance.
The 25 countries are all relevant to the 21st century in political, economical and social ways and when the project is completed, the exhibition will go on tour. There are also plans to publish a book with all of the portraits.
Currently, Fisk is in London seeking additional fundraising from companies for the continuation of the project. He has been kind enough to share some images with us, but be sure to check out the full collection at AdrianFisk.com.
As Fisk traveled 1,200 kilometers across the China during a 30-day period with a translator in tow, he randomly selected people he saw on the streets, on farms, or seated next to him at a cafe, and asked them to be part of his project.
At first, he said, most of the Chinese would respond, “what would you like me to write?”
“The Chinese struggle with freedom of expression,” Fisk said. “I then said, ‘No, this is about you.'”
The answer was typically: “China’s a great country and I want to be rich.” This was an unacceptable answer to Fisk, because all 1.2 billion people would respond that way.
He then probed his subjects asking, “What were you thinking about two hours ago?” “What will you be doing tomorrow?” “What is your relationship with your parents like?”
Sometimes these conversations would last two hours, and once the subject’s mind was buzzing, they’d have a truly original thought to write down.
One of the more powerful messages to Fisk was from a 22-year-old software engineering student named Rainbow Su. Su wrote on his card, “I am worrying something. Girls in China is becoming materialistic, without house my girlfriend would not marry me. My parents cannot help me either. So I need to get good job with high payment, that’s what I totally want.”
“It just goes to show how increasingly materialistic and consumer driven China is,” Fisk said.
During his journey, Fisk came across illiterate people who couldn’t write for themselves, but still had something to share. He dealt with this challenge by asking those people to hold up blank posters, which made for an “even more powerful political message,” Fisk said. Then, Fisk wrote down what they wanted to say for his captions and included them in the project that way.
“Everyone has something to say,” Fisk said. “Just because you don’t know how to write, doesn’t mean you can’t take part in the project. … It’s even more important these people, who don’t have a voice on any level, participate.”
As Fisk finished his project, he reflected on the trust he built with his subjects. He referred to himself as a “strange white bloke” who came up to them, tapped them on their shoulder and asked about their inner most thoughts.
“Whether you’re in rural China or New York City, you begin to realize over time looking through these photographs that the essence of humanity remains the same,” Fisk said. “We all want a good life, to get ahead, we want love. That’s a part of he essence of the project. It is understanding who we are and that we’re not so different.”
Alex Li, 22. Student international economic trading. Guangdong Province.
Avril Lui, 22. Post-grad student. Guangxi Province.
Chow Liang, 17. Hair stylist student on his way to see his father, who works in another province. Gansu Province. ‘In adults eyes I am a bad person in society, but in fact I am a very obedient person.’