Zhang Xinghai takes a picture of his reflection in the subway window at Sihui station, on Oct 12, 2012.[Photo by Zhang Xinghai/For China Daily]
Photographer spent 10 years capturing images of passengers on the subway
During rush hour on Beijing's subway, it's easy to forget that the crush of bodies is made up of individuals going about their daily lives.
Zhang Xinghai, 44, has spent a decade photographing the faces of passengers using the capital's sprawling transport system - and reminding us that everyone has a story.
A photographer for a local science and technology newspaper, Zhang's work focuses on the people in the news - officials and experts mostly.
But his real passion is snapping the everyday faces on his daily commute. His collection of 4,000, mostly close-up, portraits show beggars, drunks, vagrant singers, migrant workers, tourists, rubbish collectors and occasionally well-groomed women and fashion models.
His pictures can be amusing - a young couple sleeping on their feet; a woman subway worker picking up a lost sneaker on a platform - and dramatic, such as the moment plainclothes police arrested a thief on a carriage.
He views the subway as a mobile community, and his work displays the struggles of ordinary people who are often overlooked amid China's rapid urbanization. Most of his portraits are glum faces, such as a drunk lying across the seats, a sleepy white-collar worker in a crowd, and a dirty, sweating construction worker anxiously waiting for the next train.
"The subway is always loaded with the hardships of life", Zhang said.
Beijing's subway tentacles have grown longer and more complex in the past 10 years. The city had 114 kilometers of track over four subway lines before 2007, and now has 574 km over 18 lines carrying 12 million passengers daily.
Zhang first rode the subway in 1999, the year he arrived in Beijing to seek a better life. He grew up dreaming of becoming a great writer, inspired by the story of a Chinese soldier who became a famous author after living in Beijing.
Born in a village in Yongshou county, northwestern Shaanxi province, Zhang knew nothing of the high cost and fierce competition of city life. The university graduate supported himself working low-paid jobs, as a dishwasher, delivery man and advertising salesman. "Such people are always ignored," he said.
In 2000, he was employed as an editor at a small newspaper, where he developed an interest in photography. He spent his savings of 1,000 yuan ($145) on a simple camera.
His first fixation was landscapes and buildings, until one day he saw a senior photographer's album, which recorded the unique folk customs of his hometown. "I realized then that good photography depicted people and their lives, rather than just scenery."