Interview: A Video for Chinese People 'Concerned About the Air They Breathe'

China Air Daily, which documents air quality in multiple Chinese cities, along with a couple of American ones, aims to provide a factual documentation of China's current air pollution, and hopes to prompt more government and public efforts in China to clear the air in the long run. The project — overseen by Asia Society's very own Micahel Zhao, who heads up our China Green website — is now making its way to the China Pingyao Photography Festival.

The Pingyao Festival is in its 12th year and has established itself as a prime spot for photographers to showcase their work. Held in the ancient section of the city of Pingyao in Shanxi Province, the festival attracts tens of thousands of people to share their work evey year. This year's theme is "Returning and Exceeding" and photos can be entered into documentary, art, social life, nature and landscape.

China Air Daily collaborated with Beijing-based photographer Wang Yikun to capture the pollution through photographs which are now being entered into the festival. The video embedded above combines visuals from four of the cities that China Air Daily documents: Beijing, New York, Phoenix and Shanghai. Zhao produced it as a way to promote China Air Daily's entry into the photography festival. We reached out to Zhao via email to find out more about the upcoming exhibition.

The Asia Society Center on U.S.-China Relations has been monitoring air pollution in China and documenting it through video for quite some time. Why are you now choosing to do a photo exhibit on this topic?

This is not exactly our choice of timing. The Pingyao Photography Festival, for a dozen years, has become a major attraction to not only Chinese photographers but also to people from around the world. The festival has established quite a name in the photo and video community. Given the timing of this event in the fall, Wang Yikun, our Beijing photographer decided to go there with China Air Daily photos. He won a major award last year and loved the impact he could make with such projects. With his initiative, we are very thrilled to show our support. One of the things that we could really do to support this is to produce this video since we accumulated quite a few months of data. And it's a quick way to really get people to stare at the air pollution and think about it visually.

How will the information you have on air pollution be translated into photographs for the Air Quality Photo Exhibit, and whose photography will be on display?

This exhibit will be mostly in prints, and probably mostly from Beijing, which is where the air pollution is the biggest problem. As far as we know, Wang Yikun is going to plaster a big wall with prints of many months of Beijing photos and arrange them into a huge calendar layout, so that people from 10 feet away can look day by day and get a sense of the pollution over a period of time. We don't know yet how many months we will show, since it all depends on what kind of space we get. But we hope that this video and the interactive project will add special value to this exhibit as it's quite a new medium but a very powerful and engaging one.

Who is your target audience for this photo exhibit and what do you hope to achieve?

We hope that people who are concerned about the air they breathe, mostly in China, will get to see this and pay more attention to what's causing the pollution and how we can clean up the air — the answers to which we are still trying to find out more ourselves. And we hope this will also generate some grass roots interest in terms of monitoring air pollution DIY style. We also see an increasing interest in air pollution in some cities such as Beijing, as air quality has gotten worse over the last year or so.

The China Pingyao Photography Festival will be held September 19-25, 2012.

About the Author

Profile picture for user Tahiat Mahboob
Tahiat Mahboob is Asia Society's Senior Multimedia Producer. She grew up in Bangladesh, worked at New York Fashion Week and taught at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.