If you were raised outside of the country, you conjured images of men in uniform, a portrait of Mao, or factories belching smoke against a matte, gray sky. These are the visual shortcuts that tend to frame the "China story" in the foreign press — a window into life here, sure, but a rather narrow one.
The Eyes on China Project, a bold new collaboration between foreign and Chinese photographers, aims to broaden that view by bringing you photography, and photographers.
Founded by Kevin Frayer, who works for Getty Images, and Fred Dufour of Agence France-Presse, the group now includes more than 20 photographers, from across the country and around the world.
In keeping with that ethos, the feed is something of a free-for-all: members add pictures when and how they wish, sharing whatever work they please. They post images from across the country, sharing outtakes from long-term personal projects, or scenes from daily life.
"Our goal is for this to be a broad and objective and view on a massive country," said Frayer.
Contributors share work on big news stories such as the Tianjin blast and the military parade, but do so in interesting and unexpected ways, zooming in ona grieving mother, for instance, or showing us the marching soldiers through the eyes of a migrant worker.
There are quiet moments, and quirky ones: A young man carrying a bouquet for his girlfriend, kids being kids.
Zhang Lijie, who works at a Chinese magazine focused on disability issues, posts understated, intimate portraits that are part of her long-term projects on people with rare conditions, and those institutionalized because of mental health.
She she values the chance to share off-news stories. "You can express your personal ideas and opinions about something—that's much more interesting for me," she said.
She also appreciates the exposure. "It is not easy for anybody to get their work published," she said. "And for Chinese photographers, the language barrier can be huge."
To attract as wide an audience as possible, the Instagram feed is bilingual. The next step, Frayer said, is expanding into Chinese social media. The project just launched on Weibo, the Chinese microblogging site.
"If you publish picture of Chinese man in uniform and a red star, you get hundreds of likes, instantly," said Dufour. "If you try to make a picture with some ambiance, with something they don't expect, people look and 'say, "Oh is that China?"
And that, of course, is the point.