Questions for Taylor Glen: A Photographer Behind a Factory

September 30th, 2010 by Rachel

Several weeks ago, I featured Taylor Glen’s photography work, which depicts a factory that we should hold in high regard because of the place being clean and the workers leading fulfilling lives.  Glen was very generous to take the time to interview for this blog so that the readers and I can learn the deeper meanings behind his work.

Your work focuses on depicting how the workers are treated well and the clean factory.  We hear more often in the mainstream media about how poorly the workers are treated in the factories and are unable to live a decent life.  Do you see your work as providing an awareness of the existence of clean factories and workers living a fulfilling life?  If yes, how do you plan to use your photographs as a platform to create a better awareness?

When I began this project I did not have great socio-political ambitions.  I simply had access to something I thought was quite compelling.  The fact that this place was clean did resonate with me because I have seen so many of the much documented inappropriate working conditions.  And here is a factory that sort of defies that stereotype.  I knew immediately that this was a part of the story.  As I show the work it is a common reaction to hear surprise at how clean and soft the spaces feel.  I think it goes against the expectations of how people view or think of factory life in China.  I am not here to beat a drum for the worker’s cause.  I just wanted to make beautiful photographs.  Far Chang is the result of that goal.  I am glad that it brings about this conversation and portrays a view counter to what is expected.

Do you hope that your work will help change for those businesses who are not maintaining their factories and not treating their workers well?

It would be great if somehow I could find a greater platform for this work and have it help people in some way.  Through some of the recent press I found that some Chinese bloggers picked up the story and wrote about it.  So maybe it is reaching some people.  If anything they are seeing that a Westerner has something good to say.  China is evolving at a very rapid pace and that development brings about many repercussions.  By all means they have many problems to overcome which is better analyzed by some experts somewhere else.  One thing that is happening to the Chinese worker’s advantage is competition in the labor market.  Modern factories need good people just like any business.  To be competitive and create quality goods which is now an important goal for any Chinese business with international clients, the factories need good workers.  When the factories begin to compete in the labor market, the worker now has better options.

After having visited the factory and seeing how products are manufactured, did it change the way you feel about purchasing goods?

Absolutely.  No one can begin to imagine the work that goes in to making products, especially these flowers which are mostly done by hand.  Seeing how intense it is to make these things puts the entire “Why we purchase goods from China” topic in perspective.  Simply put the scale of production due to cheap labor provides the ability to produce things efficiently and inexpensively.

What influenced you to pursue this project?

My family has been involved in the flower business for 60+ years.  About 15 years ago my father began a new side of the company which focuses on these artificial products.  It was his relationship with the family that owns this factory that opened the door for me.  The subject matter is personal  to me and the family that runs the factory has many things in common with my family.  Having traveled in China now quite a bit for the past few years I have really gained a fascination for the Chinese people and their culture.  As I develop my craft I strive to find pictures that are meaningful and fulfill a need to do something positive with my photography.  I had been thinking about possible personal projects to pursue and eventually this opportunity came along.  I simply had to take advantage.  As I said before its a rare opportunity to be given access like this.

Why did you choose to capture this particular factory besides the fact it’s a good quality factory?

I visited this factory a year before I made these photographs.  We were given a tour by the factory owner.  As soon as we walked in I knew it was something special.  The space is very monochromatic and structured, and then strewn about are these colorful and delicate flowers.  Its a real visual treat.  I was also really taken by the people.  I knew I had to photograph this place.  When we were done with the tour I proposed to Mr Miao (the owner) that I return to make some photos.  I also had my digital camera with me and took a few snaps of which I made prints and sent to him.  Once he got those prints I was in.  At first he didn’t really understand why I was so interested in his factory but he was extremely accommodating and I am very grateful.

What did you learn from the workers about their life in general outside of the factory?

At the end of the day these people are just like anyone else.  They want all the same basic things anyone does.  As of yet I have not had an opportunity to spend time with any individuals outside the boundaries of their working life.  I also do not speak Mandarin so that has been an obvious challenge.  I am planning to return to the factory sometime this year or early next.  I will take prints to the workers to share with them.  I think the direction for this project to evolve is to dig deeper into the individual lives of some of these people.  Traveling to China to work like this is not the easiest thing to undertake so I’ll just have to see if the opportunity to develop Far Chang further will occur.  In the meantime I want to share the project as much as possible so that if I do return it will be informed by that process.  Thank you for your interest and the opportunity to share my work.

Link to Far Chang on my website: Click here

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