Taken at a machinery foundry, Advanced Individuals is not just a record of the model workers in the year 1977, but has also documented the very existence in the Post-Cultural Revolution days.


Ren Shulin (b. 1954, Beijing) has been involved in the photo community in China over four decades. He also works as a freelance architectural photographer.


Artist Statement

Progressive Individuals, 1976


In those years, the workers cited for their outstanding contributions were neither called advanced producers nor model workers. They were called progressive individuals. In addition to their workplace performance, their politics, interpersonal relationships and other qualities were also accounted for. The Machine Foundry Plant was a heavy industrial operation and therefore the workers were industrial workers – a very typical working class.


These individuals were also the citizens of Beijing. Outside of their work, they embody the city with their everyday existence, socially, intellectually, culturally and ideologically. In a very concrete and real sense, through the efforts of these individuals and many others, the city of Beijing was formed and shaped and its history and tradition were carried through.


In those days, the opportunity of having a photograph taken was rare. Each “progressive individual” would therefore take it seriously. Each of them sat formally in front of the backdrop. And then, the grand ceremony would begin!


With photography, I recorded our faces, our demeanor, our postures and our attire, and perhaps our very existence and conditions of that era.


For more info on the artist, a 3-part interview with Ren Shulin, along with a critical essay by the Chinese art historian Gu Zheng can be found at:

88forum.wordpress.com/category/photographers/re-shulin/


先进个人 —— 1976年度


那些年工厂评选不叫先进生产者,也不叫劳动模范,而叫先进个人。

他们除了工作上的表现外,还有政治上的表现,还有人际关系等因素。

机床铸造厂是重型企业。这里的工人属于产业工人。那时算标准的工人阶级了。

他们也是北京城的基本居民。

下班后,他们的家庭生活的方方面面组成这座城市的世俗景色。

他们的文化水平,思想觉悟,生活情趣,人际关系构成着北京市的人民景观。

他们体现着一座城市的某种真实,某种具体,某种生动和某种传承。

那时照相还比较少。被评为先进的他们带着认真的心情,很正式的坐在背景布前,一个隆重的仪式开始了。

我记录下他们的神态和面孔,记录下他们的姿势和着装,也记录下那个时代的种种存在。


任曙林