In July, 2015, a young Beijing director named Tian Li posted the following series of portraits to the Chinese social network WeChat. The first showed Li held in his father Jun’s arms on his birthday. Tian Jun would go on to photograph himself with his son on his birthday for the next three decades — almost always against the same backdrop in front of the family home in Guizhou Province, almost always shirtless due to the summertime heat.
Within weeks, the images had gone viral worldwide. In an interview with CNN shortly after gaining international attention, Tian Li suggested the story of father-son bonding, and a boy coming of age, have universal appeal. Like Marc Tasman, he sees the series more as performance art than simple photography.
— Tian Li
This last image represents the only break in the chain; Tian Li’s son Timothy was born in the U.S in 2014, and the pair couldn’t make it back to Guizhou for the annual father-son photo until the next year.
Next up: From Friendly Desperation: Nicholas Nixon, the Brown Sisters, and a Four-Decade Appointment
Also in the series Magic vs. the Bony Guy: Six Lifespan Projects That Speak to Us All:
- Five Guys, One Cockroach: The Copco Lake Five Project
- Because I Make Up the Rules: a Life and a Death in Polaroids
- A Desperate Swipe at Immortality: Marc Tasman’s 10-Year Polaroid Self-Portrait Project