Stephen Kelly 

The Tang Family in their home, Qi Lihe 

The Tang Family in their home

About the artist

Stephen Kelly Stephen Kelly was born in West Cumbria, England in 1983. He grew up in Lagos, Muscat, Hong Kong and London. After graduating from the University of Wales, Newport School of Documentary Photography, Stephen returned to Hong Kong where he worked on personal projects across China. Between 2013 and 2015, he lived in Burma, where he worked on commissions throughout the country and focused on a number of new projects in Rangoon, one of which he continues to develop. Documenting social, political and environmental issues in Asia, Stephen is particularly interested in exploring how urban development is shaping and transforming landscapes, communities and identities. Featured here are two of the photographer’s images drawn from a series produced in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, China, which is a home to the Hui and Dongxiang Muslim minorities. As in his later work, Kelly has delivered rare, subtle images that meet a difficult challenge: the pursuit of an aesthetic quest in the very real substance of reality, without sacrificing what he always sees as the focal point of his images -humans and their condition.


Can you tell us about the area of Qi Lihe, which is the name of your series?
Qi Lihe is a district which sits awkwardly on the outskirts of Lanzhou. It is the most destitute area of this heavily polluted industrial city in northwestern China. The Shanghai to Ürümqi express train regularly steams through the district, rattling the makeshift homes along the track and slicing a divide between the slum dwellings and the modern sprawl of high-rise apartment blocks and shopping malls. These developments have begun to sprout up as Lanzhou attempts to compete with the prosperous boom of China’s other provincial capitals.
Who are these communities you focused on with this work?
In recent years there has been a steady surge in the number of migrant families arriving into the city from their remote rural villages in the Linxia Hui Autonomous Prefecture; a homeland for the Hui and Dongxiang Muslim minorities, situated three hours north of the capital.The Hui’s ancestors were Silk Road traders, largely of Arab and Persian descent, who first came to China in the seventh century. The Dongxiang are closely related to the Mongolians and, as an independent ethnic group, they arose through contact with Central Asians who converted them to Sunni Islam in the thirteenth century. For hundreds of years the Hui and Dongxiang have farmed the arid and bleak land surrounding their ancestral villages. However, in recent years, desertification has forced much of the landscape to become infertile and while pockets of farming communities still exist, life has become too difficult and remote for many. This has necessitated thousands of families to seek a better existence and to hope for a new future in Lanzhou. However, economic and educational marginalization continues to greatly impact on Qi Lihe’s migrant families. Life in the provincial capital remains extremely difficult, as the majority continue to live in abject poverty, struggling to survive from one day to the next.

As in your older Zheng Sheng project – in which you focus on a rehabilitation center for teenagers, located in Hong Kong – you depict here a very tightly knit community, with a great proximity towards the people. How do you work with a community you aim to portray?
It is very important for me to spend a great deal of time within the communities I photograph. For my Qi Lihe project, I spent many months documenting daily life within the Muslim migrant community, as I did previously for my Zheng Sheng project, where I lived within the centre, eating the same food, sleeping in the same dormitories, going through the same daily program as the boys. In both cases, it wasn’t always easy to stay there, but in the end I think these communities accepted me and it became quite normal for them to see me there everyday.

Your photography is very picturesque. As a photographer, what is your relationship to seduction when composing an image?
Patience and understanding is key when working on my projects. The style of images I take stems from the commitment to the stories I pursue. On many occasions, I spend a great deal of time waiting for a number of elements to come together to make a picture, returning to locations time and time again.

Limited edition, numbered and signed.

Selected shows and awards

Selected publications


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Stephen Kelly 
The Tang Family in their home, Qi Lihe


Technical information

Lambda c-print on satin paper - limited edition, numbered and signed certificate.


26 x 39 cm , Edition of 50 220.00 €
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By the same curator

Newcomers 2014