Photographs have always captured split-second moments in time, yet An Xiao’s photography is something extra special in that regard.
Splitting time between New York and Los Angeles, An Xiao’s urban photography is inspired both by haiku poetry and the images of Henri Cartier-Bresson, an extremely influential 20th century photographer and early adopter of the street photography style.
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Almost every scene contains individuals suspended in time—and sometimes even suspended literally—like in this photograph entitled Hackey Sack.
By capturing that leaping figure in an impossible pose, An Xiao emphasizes the passing of time while holding this single instance outside of it. The high contrast tree trunks and silhouetted forms lend extra weight, or importance, to the situation as well.
There’s even more gravitas present in her next artwork, Hunger Memorial, due to the intense black and white contrast of those repetitive lines of light.
Each figure in the foreground appears almost pushed to the right or the left, swept along by the force of those beams instead of moving according to their own will.
In fact, that relationship (between us and our surroundings) is a prevalent theme in An Xiao’s artwork. Many times there’s a push and a pull between humans and their environment, as seen in the photographs above, but there are also occasional moments of utter stillness and contemplation, like here, in Departure.
Artistically speaking, An Xiao took a compositional risk by compressing the sole figure deep into the bottom right corner of the photograph. That unique placement, however, helps draw our attention to his complete stillness. . . his absorption, perhaps. . . in the grand sweep of nature laid out in front of him.