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March 29, 2021

Dear Old Days: 40 Fascinating Photographs Portrayed Everyday Life of Chinese Children in the Early 1980s

In the early 1980s, Japanese photographer Ryoji Akiyama traveled through China and photographed children in many parts of the country. The images were published in the book Dear Old Days in 1982. While also reveling in a positive nostalgia for the “dear old days,” the photographs live off Akiyama’s acute artistic sensibilities and the close distance to his subjects. His images capture the historic and social conditions of the era as much as the individuality hiding behind each child’s face.

“I traveled to Shanghai, Beijing, Dalian, Guangzhou, Suzhou, Kunming and other big cities,” Akiyama said. “Sure enough, the children in the city were experienced. I carried many cameras, large and small, and many children walked directly in front of me. Not curious.”

As a foreigner who does not speak Chinese and has never lived in China, when asked how Mr. Akiyama captured the details of that era and the action expressions of those children, he said: “Although they don’t understand my language, I will talk to them with a smile, teach them the Japanese children’s game, and be a part of them. Then take photos quickly when the children don’t notice.”

The camera used by Akiyama at that time was the Rolleiflex. Compared with the digital camera that can take thousands of photos, a roll of film at that time can only take 12 photos, and it was taken all at once, and the film needs to be replaced. “I came to China once to bring more than 200 rolls of film. I packed it in a 20kg suitcase, and once I used it, I would run out of a full box, and I had to drag the suitcase along the way.”

Ryoji Akiyama was born in Tokyo in 1942. His father, Seiji Akiyama, was also a photographer. After graduating from the School of Humanities and Social Studies at Waseda University in 1964, Akiyama went to work at the Tokyo Bureau of the Associated Press and the photography department at Asahi Shimbun newspaper before becoming a freelance photographer in 1967. As a photojournalist, he covered and published work on social issues in Japan and abroad. In 1974, his photographs were shown alongside those of Daido Moriyama and Masahisa Fukase and others at the New Japanese Photography exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York. Subsequently, he established an original world of photography, presenting unique works taken during his travels and sojourns in Japan, China, and the United States.


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