Recording China through a lens: An interview with Yann Layma

Updated: 2015-03-25 16:41

By Wen Yi(

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Recording China through a lens: An interview with Yann Layma

Book cover of China Yesterday. [Photo provided by Inter Art Center/Gallery]

Like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Marc Riboud and Liu Xiangcheng, French photographer Yann Layma (Chinese name Yan Lei) has a particular interest in recording China through a lens. Born in 1962, the cameraman was once commissioned to take photographs for then French president Francois Mitterand in the Elysee Palace in France for one year in 1984. Due to his prominent contribution in the Sino-France Cultural Exchange,  Layma was awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal.

In 1979, China began to issue tourist visas to foreigners and on hearing the news Layma was inspired to start his first trip to China in 1985 as a freelance photographer. In the past 30 years, he has traveled across China, to even the most remote areas, and has produced more than 60 photo feature stories and several books on this country. His latest photo album China Yesterday is one of them, which gives a glimpse into yesterday’s China spanning from 1985 to 2000 and may easily arouse Chinese readers’ collective memories. Layma granted an interview recently through email.

Question: The cover photo of China Yesterday depicts students starting the new day of school with an early morning jog in 1986. When you shot this photo, what urged you to catch this moment? What ideas did/do you want to convey to the viewer through this photo?

Yann Layma: I took hundreds of thousands of photos depicting the daily life of China in many regions, anything that can portray the specificity of China and its changes. I remember when taking this photo I was amused by these kids with their red scarf jogging in a group in the morning light. This is a scene one cannot see in many countries.


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