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An Rong Xu: Grandpa

Born in Taishan, China. Currently lives and works between New York and Taipei, Taiwan.


“This man could be whoever he wanted to be. In the time I knew him, my grandfather, Guang Yao Xu, was an accountant, a dishwasher, a gambler, a husband, a father. When I was younger, I knew him plainly as my 阿公 (“Ah Gong”), the same innocent way every Chinese child refers to their grandfather. He played this age-old role well – he took me to school, to the park, to the barber, to the mahjong parlor, and everywhere he would go.

I started photographing my grandfather in 2008, after he was diagnosed with throat cancer. At first, I did this out of fear – it was a fear of what my life would be like without him in it. I desired to hold on to his existence. So I spent my days sitting quietly by my Grandpa’s side. I watched him as he read his books, as he took his naps. I went with him on strolls through Chinatown and accompanied him on his secret smoke breaks.

It was in this intimate period of time for both of us, that I began to see my grandfather as the man he was. I saw his strengths and also his flaws. They colored in the once-simple image of my Ah Gong and allowed me experience, in a more rich and nuanced way, the person that he was and the life that he led. By getting to know his story, I also got to understand how the forces, ambitions and disappointments in his life were part and parcel of a more universal human existence. In the end, I also got to see how these experiences ultimately led to me being in this world.

This body of work captures the living memory of a man whose journey has shaped my own. These are the quiet moments that have taught me revelation, love, and loyalty in the midst of fear and unrest. These photographs continue to connect me to him, to my family, and to the tender experiences of humanity that my life was forged from.” – An Rong Xu

An Rong Xu is a New York City and Taipei based photographer and director. Born in China and raised in New York City’s Chinatown, Xu’s work is rooted in the beauty of the ordinary, capturing a rich cinematic stillness in his photography and a passionate ethereal journey in his films. Bringing with him a vision for creating emotional narratives, Xu shares a deeper look into the lives of his subjects with a sense of trust and candor, shown through personal moments and words unspoken. Xu earned a BFA in Photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York City. His work has been featured at The New York Times, The New Yorker, National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, among others.

Click here to follow An Rong Xu on Instagram.

Edited by Martin Wendelbo