Family Stuff

GFX Challenge Grant Program 2022 Global Grant Award recipient Qingjun Huang reveals humanity in belongings

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/80 sec at F11, ISO 100

In the eyes of many, the most meaningful signifiers of who we are come by way of grand gestures. Throughout the course of life, we get just a handful of defining moments, and can foster but a few creeds with true devotion. But, sparse as they are, the echoes of these pivotal choices ring for eternity.

Consider the details of our days. The clothes we wear, the places we choose to spend our time, and the items we cherish may, by sheer volume, speak to a person’s character as much as the more memorable acts. One by one, these tiny droplets form a deep and churning ocean. And so it becomes that the minutiae of our lives, when viewed with perspective, are not so small at all.

For 20 years, Qingjun Huang has found beauty in things. Through his lens, otherwise uninteresting items of personal property come together to paint telling portraits of his subjects. In September 2022, he submitted his ongoing project Family Stuff to the FUJIFILM GFX Challenge Grant Program 2022, and subsequently received a Global Grant Award, funding a new chapter in his visual tale and giving him access to more revealing photographic tools than ever. The work completed since is some of his finest.

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/80 sec at F11, ISO 100

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F11, ISO 100

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/125 sec at F11, ISO 100

“I started to learn photography in 1986. In 1992, I made the decision to commit to the art form,” Qingjun recalls, thinking back to where it all began. “Photography let me hold onto the beautiful moments of life. It allowed me to travel around the world, and experience different lifestyles. That’s my passion.”

In the early 2000s, the image maker struck creative gold. He envisioned a simple documentation of changing times, grounded in the most tangible markers of life: possessions. Little did he know the project would grow in complexity and scale for the next two decades.

“For those initial years, I simply wanted to show that different families own different things,” Qingjun states. “When I made more photos, I realized that by using this kind of expression, I could show the changing of society, the environment, and the development of science and technology – which all come together to affect lifestyles. My way of staging the images is straightforward, and its ability to show my intentions clearly lets the viewer directly understand the lives of the families.”

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/20 sec at F11, ISO 100

Though simple in result, execution is another story. The practical challenges of moving much of a home’s contents outside are obvious, but that’s only the final piece of a more thoughtful puzzle. Far beyond his early intention, Qingjun’s photos have come to represent much more than simply social advancement.

“When I have a potential subject now, I need to understand their story, past experiences, profession, hobbies – so I will visit their home. I assess the locations outside to see where is suitable to make a photo, then pick my frame and photograph some of the items in the house. When I come home, I print them out, post them on the wall, and think for some days to decide what items to choose. They have to represent the subject’s personality, or the particular ideal I want to express.

“When I return on the day of the photograph, I will first position the family members, then work to display their furniture and belongings around them. I’ll consider my selection of their objects by size and color to create a pleasing visual relationship between them. This is a decision I must make in the moment, so the average time to realize one of these scenes is six hours.

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/20 sec at F11, ISO 100

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/40 sec at F11, ISO 125

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/40 sec at F11, ISO 125

“It is difficult to persuade people to participate, but I’ve been very lucky to find some volunteers,” he continues. “The project could have easily been impossible due to people’s sense of privacy, but I’m able to accomplish my work through their stronger desire to exhibit love. That’s important. It shows that they believe this is art. They want to be part of it, to be immortalized. This is a chance to create a memory of their life in this moment – forever.”

Last year, Qingjun’s own life changed dramatically when he moved with his family from China. Among countless personal opportunities, American soil also provided a chance to expand his vision through the lens. Prompted by new cultures, the project took another important step as he homed in on spirituality, diversity, and individualism.

“I see so many ways of living here in the US. The heart of the project has always remained the same, but here I pay more attention to a family’s spiritual life than material life. I just use their material things to express that. I’m also more mindful that my photos tell individuals’ stories,” he explains.

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/40 sec at F10, ISO 100

“Diversity is an important feature of the US. It’s a country built on immigration, so we get to see cultures from different parts of the world – and how they influence each other – every day. I want to include the exploration of personal lives, but also examine how those subjects represent a society.”

The shift in Qingjun’s imagery is palpable. His scenes have become a beautiful concoction of ideas large and small. Each one is rendered in exquisite detail – more so lately, thanks to his GFX Challenge Grant Program prize of FUJIFILM GFX100S. Pleasingly, it is a perfect creative fit.

“I love GFX100S very much. Its huge number of megapixels create incredible image quality. To communicate my message, I need to show every single detail – it’s the most important feature of my work,” Qingjun reveals.

“The body and GF Lenses are light and convenient to carry, which is another essential in my system. This set-up has improved my efficiency greatly.”

With years already completed, it seems doubtless that there’s more to come. By the time he hangs up the camera, Qingjun’s meaningful work may well have spanned generations.

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/40 sec at F10, ISO 100

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/25 sec at F11, ISO 100

Photo 2023 © Qingjun Huang | FUJIFILM GFX100S and FUJINON GF32-64mmF4 R LM WR, 1/25 sec at F11, ISO 100

“I’ll continue as long as my condition allows,” the artist asserts, though he acknowledges his process demands time. “In China, it took 20 years to complete 140 photos. The US is a comparably huge country, and I want to cover more of it. We’ve only been here for a year, but the more regions I visit, the more diversity I’ll uncover. When I’m done, I want to leave material for society to reflect upon.”

Before that, he’ll have one last photo to make.

“I have an idea that the very last photo in the series will be of my own family and our belongings. I haven’t figured out when that will be, or how I’ll achieve it,” Qingjun concludes, “but it seems like a fitting way to end.”

If you would like to explore more of Qingjun’s photography, his work will be showcased in an exhibition held at FUJIFILM SQUARE, Roppongi, Tokyo in November 2023. Alternatively, visit his website.

Learn more about FUJIFILM GFX100S and read the full specifications here.