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March 18, 2024

Found Photographs Capture the Unexpected Role Cigarettes Play in Chinese Weddings in the 1980s and 1990s

Cigarettes played an unexpected role in Chinese weddings in the 1980s and 1990s. As a token of appreciation, it is customary for the bride to light a cigarette for each and every man invited. The bride and the groom are then invited to play some cigarette-smoking games of an unprecedented ingenuousness.

These photos come from the Beijing Silvermine project, an archive of half a million negatives salvaged over the years from a recycling plant on the edge of Beijing by the French collector and artist Thomas Sauvin.

Sauvin has been collecting photographs taken by ordinary Chinese since 2009, when he discovered a garbage dump on the outskirts of Beijing that housed bulks of discarded 35mm. negatives, ready to be processed to extract silver nitrate. He bought the negatives by the kilo and started an archival project, Beijing Silvermine, which now houses an estimate 500,000 negatives. The photographs, shot between 1985 to the early 2000s, when digital replaced analog, offer a surprisingly intimate glance at Chinese lives against the backdrop of the country’s vast social changes.

(Photos © Thomas Sauvin)


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