Thomas Sauvin: Until Death Do Us Part

Who knew cigarettes played such a strong part in Chinese weddings? Photo collector Thomas Sauvin didn’t, until he came across a stack of discarded negatives at a recycling plant in Beijing. A native Frenchman, his new book Until Death Do Us Part uncovers a bizarre custom of brides lighting a cigarette for each man in attendance at their wedding – a token of appreciation before she partakes in ‘smoking’ games with her groom. The archivist and collector uncovered the fascinating tradition when one photo of a man and his wife sharing a homemade bong sparked the discovery of dozens more images, shot at different times and by different people, featuring the custom.

Sauvin, who’s based in Beijing, initially came across the recycling plant in 2009 and has since founded the Beijing Silvermine project as a platform to house his discoveries – which now notch up more than half a million found negatives. “Recognising a chance to rescue abandoned memories, I struck up a deal to buy these photographic negatives by the kilo,” he explains. “What might be unusual with this book is that found photography publications usually tend to unearth a story within one stranger’s personal life, but here, it’s a slowly disappearing custom which is bringing the images together.”

Until Death Do Us Part is available now from Kominek Books. Check out Sauvin’s Facebook andInstagram for more. You can also see a great documentary on how Sauvin mines his negatives here 

- Text Ashleigh Kane

“Thomas Sauvin says he is not an artist. He is a editor, curator, collector and archivist. Since 2005, he has rescued over half a million photographic negatives that were on their way to being destroyed. Through the whole of his archive he has created an unedited portrait of a transforming post socialist China.”

(via INTERVIEW: Thomas Sauvin - “ASX Interviews Thomas Sauvin” (2013) « ASX | AMERICAN SUBURB X | Photography & CultureASX | AMERICAN SUBURB X | Photography & Culture)


Chinese Family Memories, Recycled

When Thomas Sauvin shows his work to friends in Beijing who don’t study photography, they are often surprised, and a bit confused, by the pictures he collects. To them, they are familiar — and boring.

“Sometimes people don’t expect this from photography,” he said. “They want to travel from photography. They want to see things they’ve never seen. They want to see things with a new angle.”

That is not what Mr. Sauvin is seeking. He is working on “Silvermine,” a project that looks at hundreds of thousands of negatives, mostly personal and family photos, that have been rescued from Beijing’s trash. From so many different lives, he sees the same story time and again.

He sees his work as a counterpoint to the usual – and often negative – coverage about China in the foreign press and on Chinese social media.

“It starts with birth, it ends with death,” he said of the collection. “It talks a bit about love. People go to the beach. People travel. They take blurry pictures, their negatives eventually get damaged. They are at home with posters of Marilyn Monroe. They have their photo shot with their refrigerator.”

It’s about life.