Ma Hailun grew up in the rural the mountainous Chinese province of Xinjiang and moved to New York in 2013 to study photography. Her experience of such contrasting parts of the world give her a unique perspective that has garnered attention from cutting-edge publications such as NYLON, New York Magazine, i-D magazine, and Artinfo. Hailun was also shortlisted in the 2020 Exposure Award, you can view her artworks here. In this special Behind the Scenes feature she reveals what goes on during her shoots in her homeland.
March 2018, Kashgar
When I was shooting the hometown series in a local family, what attracted me most to this Uyghur mother was her eyes. At that time, we ran into this aunt when we were walking in the alley. She has very beautiful light gray eyes. This is me dressing her up with her girl in her house.
March 2018, Aheqi
This photo is at a local Kirgiz family home. This little boy impressed me very much. He was naughty and clumsy. As this project was largely about shooting on the road, I tried to reduce the equipment I had. I have to give a special thanks to my friends who helped me carry the studio lights along the way!
I really like and enjoy this way of shooting on the road, although there is some plan. I have a general idea of where the project is going and what will be the final destination. On the road, I really observe and feel the surroundings. I kinda let fate, or destiny, take me to find the people I will photograph.
I chat with my subjects and then photograph them, sometimes a whole shoot will only take 10 or 20 minutes. Using this intuitive approach helps me to understand their world and allows me to know more about Xinjiang and the charm of photography.
July 2017, Summer vacation
This was taken during my summer vacation in northern Xinjiang in 2017. It’s more an exercise for my future shoots that were inspired by Richard Avedon’s In the American West. I really wanted to take photos of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang. At every entrance of a village or a nice place, I set up my background frame and asked people who come and go if they want to have their picture taken. Although my shooting at this time was still very raw and I was quite inexperienced, this one week photo trip had a lot of influence on my subsequent shooting.
This photo was also taken during the summer vacation of 2017
During the shooting journey in northern Xinjiang, we accidentally went to a place not seen by tourists, Heihe Ranch in the hinterland of Kanas Scenic Area. There was no signal, no electricity, no running water - all the convenience of city life were gone. I had to drive over a mountain,and hail fell during the process, but it was sunny again when I reached the top of the mountain.
In this pasture, I first came into contact with real Kazakh herders. We temporarily decided to stay one night in this ranch. The next day we ran into a Kazakh boy named Ores. During the half day I spent with that boy and his family, I was drawn to the boy's innocence. We played together on the grassland and took pictures together. That was definitely the highlight of my year in 2017.