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

A photo of Yann Layma. [Photo taken by Na Risong /Inter Art Center/Gallery]

You first came to China as a photographer in the 1980s. According to your observation, what are the main differences in the subjects that interest your buyers today compared with 30 years ago, if there is any?

The market of buyers have changed tremendously in the last 30 years. Most of the international magazines don’t exist anymore or don’t have enough money today to have a photographer spend time close to his subject. Even American National Geographic is not what it used to be 30 years ago. Everyone goes on the Internet now and don’t buy magazines. Stock photos, archives don’t sell anymore as it used to be because of the Internet where one can have access to millions of photos within a few clicks so prices have fallen by 90%. This was not the case 30 years ago. Everything is now different and I don’t see how even famous photographers can make a living out of this job today. It is really a time of big changes.

Besides China Yesterday, it has been reported that you plan to publish another book called China Today. As China is becoming increasingly globalized, it shares more similarities with the rest of the world. Nowadays, what aspects in China interest you?

I am still interested in daily life and portraying the world’s biggest people but it becomes impossible to make a living out of it so even though I’m still passionate to portray China today, I have changed my life totally and I haven’t taken many photos recently. I just published a book in France called China Now with the help of Na Risong who gathered 14 Chinese photographers who have an international level of documentary photography. I am happy with the result of that book but even books are suffering from the Internet craze.

Would you please tell us a bit about your future projects? What are you working on these days?

I would love to continue to take photos in China but I am not optimistic about the future of this business so I am now working as a salesman for rich Chinese people to buy castles in France. Besides, as I have a passion for butterflies which I have collected since my childhood, I would love to make a world butterfly museum somewhere. I am now also working on a book called Butterfly's Art but I don't feel I am a photographer anymore.

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