Yang’s delicate images of his partner Julie explore her memories and experiences of immigrating to the US
Julie Chen immigrated to the US from China when she was 12 years old. Back then, she was known as Shiqi Chen, but in her new life, with her mother and her new American husband and family, she would be known as Julie. Her parents had divorced when Julie was four years old — the last thing her father said to her was, “there will be a better environment for you in America”. But, there were many hardships that she had to face. Unlike her American-born Asian friends, Julie never felt “at home” in the US. “I am too Chinese to be American and too American to be Chinese,” she said.
Photographer KyeongJun Yang first met Julie while he was taking photographs on campus at The University of Texas at Austin, where he studies journalism, and the pair became romantically involved. Yang started taking photographs a few years ago to overcome depression, and he felt an affinity with Julie’s feelings of loneliness and isolation. Coupled with an interest in the hardships of immigration and the desire to photograph someone he loved, Yang began to develop a photographic story about Julie’s life.
His resulting project, Metamorphosis, the winner of the ZEISS Photography Award 2020, is an intimate portrayal of Julie’s experiences as a Chinese woman in America. Accompanied by quotes — some inspired the photographs, while others are a reflection on them — Yang’s images have a delicate quality to them, as though they have been carefully pulled from Julie’s memories.
“Some photos are about her memories, while others are changes she experienced due to the memories,” says Yang. “I wanted to show how she became who she is through her experiences.”
Julie stands covering a laundry basket.
“Sometimes I still want to be a kid. I wish hiding away could avoid the inevitable”
2. Bus Ride
Julie goes to school riding a bus full of Chinese people in Austin, Texas.
“Sitting in a bus full of Chinese, frankly I felt more like an American. Our differences can’t be distinguished, only to be felt”
A photo that Julie took of her parents.
“Filial obedience is embedded in the Chinese culture. I wanted to be me, but I couldn’t be free”
Julie shows one of her worst memories in middle school.
“I used to hate my mono lids. They defined me before I could define myself in this foreign country. I didn’t want to stay as a foreigner”
5. Stretch Marks
Julie started to have stretch marks after she started to eat high-calorie food in the U.S.
“Hard days flew by just as easy days did. When I realised what had changed, only the marks on my flesh could tell a better story than myself”
6. Turtle Neck
Julie started to stay indoor with her electronics after she immigrated to the U.S rather than going outside to play which developed her turtle neck syndrome.
“Half of my lifetime ago, I spent my summers on the streets of my hometown. The luxury of my childhood was soon replaced by electronics and a hunched over posture”
7. China Town
A lady lays down in the shadow under China Town structure in Austin, Texas.
“Home is far away, so the only chance I get to reconnect is at the local china town. Everyone here is an immigrant. Somehow this place feels more like home”
Julie lays down on the bed sleeping.
“Looking through a tunnel, you can see lights from the exit but nothing of its detail. The dark feels warmer than the light when you are in here too long. The destination is presented in front of my eyes. I blinked twice, but it does not get clearer. I didn’t want to continue, hiding becomes natural when you are stuck in this state”
An iron butterfly is in a pot in front of Julie’s apartment.
“I don’t belong here. I don’t belong anywhere. The force that drives me is my biological needs. But I’m lacking something that cannot be found. I don’t know what to search for. I am Chinese but not Chinese. I am American but not American.”