Though his use of flash isolates his subjects and creates a somber mood, Li thinks their faces are the best expressions of the darkness and violence they’ve witnessed. “I want to capture the intimacy and natural side of them, the moment that could bring the readers into their memories, through their wrinkles, their eyes, instead of obvious things like scars,” he said via e-mail.
Li’s portrait sessions tended to be emotional experiences, and the veterans he photographed often burst into tears as they recalled difficult memories from the war and its aftermath. While veterans tend to be lionized in television depictions of the war, Li said, the people he met spoke more of cruelties and injuries than victories. Li hopes his photographs shed light on these complex realities while highlighting the veterans’ service and dignity.
“On my way to a veteran’s home, he passed away. The people in my photos don’t have much time left. I am happy I could do something for them, let them feel the respect from the whole society,” he said.
Li Qian’s photography work can also be found through the break-out Chinese photo agency Yihe Image.