Gift of Chinese New Year photos connects family and friends
For graduate student Beibei Lu, this will be the second year in Canada during a major holiday. When she was young, her family had a portrait taken each year during their family reunion as part of their Chinese New Year celebration. The family reuniting is a big part of the annual Chinese traditional holiday, which starts this year on January 31.
Attending university and then employed in Shanghai after graduation, she was often unable to return home to Northern China for the New Year holiday. Now a master’s student at the U of M, she’s even further from home. Two years ago, she followed her brother to the U of M, where he is still studying. Their parents remain in China.
After spending her first Chinese New Year’s in Canada without much to do, the following year she decided to plan something to “make it interesting.” She set up a small studio and started taking pictures of her friends. They loved it.
After spending her first Chinese New Year’s in Canada without much to do, she decided to plan something to “make it interesting.” She set up a small studio and started taking pictures of her friends. They loved it.
This year, to help her fellow Chinese students, she’s extending her idea to offer free portraits in celebration of Chinese New Year. Lu will take photos of Chinese students and friends at the university (February 11, 4 to 6 PM). It’s the latest phase of many for her Free Family Portrait project.
Lu is also a professional photographer and journalist who’s worked for many years in the travel and tourism industry.
Her own academic work focuses on the recreation and leisure habits of Chinese immigrants. She’s pursuing a graduate degree in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Recreation Management, building on the work she did for her bachelor’s degree of journalism in Shanghai a few years ago.
After completing her degree, she was employed in the tourism industry for six years, writing and photographing travel stories for a Chinese travel magazine. The tourism industry in China is developing, she notes; two years ago, Canada and China signed a tourism destination agreement.
“Which means it’s a great time for the industry to grow,” says Lu.
On arriving in Canada, she started volunteering — she made a lot of friends. As a photographer, she was asked to take photos at many multicultural events and activities, she says. She became involved with UMSU, the GSA (Graduate Students Association), the International Center for Students and the English Language Centre. She started a Mandarin radio show; she volunteered for the Manitoba Chinese Tribune and its magazine; she’s also working as the photo editor of The Manitoban, U of M’s student-run newspaper.
Lu decided to continue in Canada the photo project she’d started in Shanghai, photographs of the homes of people from different cultural backgrounds.
The idea for the “free family portrait” was born.
The talented student wanted to share her gift, but she also wanted to build cultural bridges — to help Chinese immigrants share their stories within the community and with others.
“Many Chinese students don’t talk that much with other students, and others [non-Chinese students] may not know much about the Chinese culture,” she says.
Through her project, Lu wants others to learn more about Chinese culture, to help others be able to relate to Chinese immigrants.
Through her project, Lu wants to help others learn more about Chinese culture, to be able to relate to Chinese immigrants.
“I wanted to make something to remind people of the Chinese culture. People are talking about China all the time, but with the Chinese students here, they sometimes don’t join in.
“The only thing I can do is start something and people will see it and understand and relate more,” she says.
She started taking pictures of Chinese immigrants in their homes and published the portraits alongside interviews about their personal stories in the Manitoba Chinese Tribune magazine. Someone from the magazine belonged to a local Chinese church nearby the university. In support of her family portrait project, they set up a Christmas tree as a photo backdrop and welcomed people to have their portraits taken by Lu.
Since then she’s expanded her idea to include other immigrants, last year working with Manitoba Start, Pembina School Division and St. Avila School. At an annual Christmas party for new Canadians, Lu took family portraits and later emailed the photos to them. And she did it all for free.
“I thought maybe I should do this [family portrait] for communities, so that I could set up the time and people could come to me and get a picture for free.”
She just thought it would be nice for them to have a formal family portrait to send home to their own extended families.
“I know what it’s like to be far away from your family,” she says.
Beibei Lu will offer free portraits on the first floor of University Centre on February 11 from 4:00 to 6:00 p.m.
>> See this UM Today story on celebrating Chinese New Year. Also this commentary by history prof Tina Chen on the cultural and political significance of the holiday.