Filmmaker Émiland Guillerme‘s documentary ‘Silvermine: La mémoire des Chinois ordinaire‘ (Memories of Ordinary Chinese) explores the work of an artist on a mission. That artist is Thomas Sauvin, a Beijing-dwelling Frenchman whose hard work and determination has led to some fascinating photographic discoveries. His mission? To rescue thousands of discarded negatives and show a very ordinary slice of China rarely seen by the world.
This fantastic documentary takes us on a journey from the trash piles on the outskirts of Beijing – to Sauvin’s studio in the traditional downtown hutongs. We meet the camera-shy recycler, Siao Ma, who sifts through mountains of rubbish to find the negatives, which he initially intended to melt down for the valuable silver nitrate, until Sauvin found another use for them. After some inspection at his studio by Sauvin and his assistant, Wanglian, the negatives are sent off to Xiao Wang, whose patience in scanning over 250,000 images has been integral to the project. Once he has the digitised images, Sauvin begins the mammoth task of selecting, grouping and curating the photos for exhibition.
As a result of this collaborative effort, we are treated to some wonderful images that chart the opening up of China and the rise of the nation’s middle class, depicted buying electrical equipment, visiting cultural hotspots and travelling abroad for the first time. As Martin Parr (who makes a cameo in the film) says; ‘without Sauvin and his team, these photos would have been buried beneath the earth and never seen the light of day’ – Thank goodness they weren’t!
Also check out some images via Sauvin’s Silvermine project on Facebook
Silvermine – Thomas Sauvin
Narrated, Produced, shot and edited by Émiland Guillerme
Animations – Marie Gonguet, Thomas Sauvin & Lei Lei