Art April 6, 2010 By Nika Knight

British photographer Stephen JB Kelly had an unusual upbringing: after spending his early childhood in Africa and the Middle East, he lived for ten years in Hong Kong before returning to England to study photography. His experiences abroad have drawn him to explore the marginalized groups in our world, with a particular focus on issues concerning China. This series on the persecuted Muslim migrant community in the Qi Lihe district of Gansu Province explores the lives and rituals — both daily and religious — of a group that few people, both inside and outside of China, are aware of. His riveting images tell of a delicate daily existence beholden to a world which is constantly imperilled. Kelly’s work has won him many international awards and has been published in magazines in the UK, France, and America. Currently working on a project documenting a tributary of the Pearl River in Guangdong Province, Stephen plans to return to Europe in May to begin a one-year residency in the photography department of Fabrica in Treviso, Italy. But before setting off on yet another journey, Kelly agreed to sit down to answer a few questions about his work.

Can you explain a bit about your international upbringing?

I am English and was born in West Cumbria, although my family was based in Nigeria at that time. We then moved Oman and, after five years, to Hong Kong. My parents immersed my sisters and myself in each location…. They made sure that we were able to travel in the different countries and experience a whole range of environments. This opened my eyes to the diversities of the world and most definitely harnessed my interest in wanting to meet and spend time with people from all walks of life. I returned from Hong Kong to the UK for further education, moving to Wales to attend the School of Documentary Photography at the University of Wales, Newport, for three years.

How do your early experiences in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia influence the work you do now?

I developed a strong passion for storytelling in Newport and began to relate this back to my early experiences in life. From this my interest in migration and social issues within China developed. I produced two reportages in England that were intrinsically connected to China. One being a project documenting the sands in Morecombe, Lancashire, in the northwest of England where, sadly, twenty-one Chinese migrants drowned harvesting cockles. The second  body of work was a portrait series focusing on the lives of Chinese political refugees in England.
     In my final year I returned to Hong Kong to work on a project depicting the lives of young drug addicts in the process of rehabilitation. Since then I have continued to find ways of pursuing projects in this region, whether through scholarship bursaries or assignments.

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