Eli Dijkers

I love working with Ilias! Collaborating with him has helped me, as narrowing down a vast set of images has never been my strong suit. After taking hundreds of images in a project, it is essential to have someone to make the hard choices and bring the best out of the work. Ilias is that person. On top of that, he is a really lovely person to work with.

Are you rich today?

Outline and additional info on the work

Introduction on the work:

The images submitted have been taken in Shanghai and Fuzhou province in 2019 and 2017. Although the majority is made during my stay in Shanghai in 2019.

The final selection of the work has been performed in close collaboration with Ilias Georgiadis, whom I met during a book-making workshop. We have been intensely working ever since.

I see the work as divided into three layers.

The first layer are the images taken in Shanghai and Fuzhou province in 2019 and 2017. They are my personal perception of the world as I see it. The Kunsthal at the time described my images and way of working as follows: ‘The Rotterdam photographer Eli Dijkers is curious, nothing seems to escape him. He has an eye for people and animals and documents fascinating details and panoramic surveys. He likes to be surprised, preferably by cultures that area not his own. Hence his long trips through India and China with remarkable photo reports as a result. His is intrigued by ‘the land of the dragon’, which is changing so quickly that every trip he makes there seems new. Dijkers is a photographer who starts taking photos from the moment that he leaves the airport of his destination to his arrival at the gate for the return flight to Schiphol just before departure. It is inherent to his profession that the photos are composed properly, and the technique is completely under control. There is no need to waste words on that. The piles of images that he brings back with him show his meanderings through various districts of Shanghai and Fujian. They show that, in spite of the crowded streets and squares, he is always able to focus. His fond attitude towards animals – the Chinese treat them differently from what is customary in the Netherlands – is striking. So is his eye for the strange. Often almost surrealist situations. Dijkers’ pictures show a photographer on the road, in search of a certain rhythm. As he zooms in and out, he creates a visual poetry of light and life, present and past, unfamiliar and familiar structures, people and animals in large or small spaces. Dijkers’ photographs seem to breathe, just as taking them is like breathing for him.’

The central theme in the images submitted here are the vast changes taking place in China at the moment and their impact on the people. I try to do this in a poetic way.

The second layer is composed of closeups derived from the work made in 2019 and 2017. For me it was important to have this emphasis on the individual, as a juxtaposition to the Chinese collectivism.

I understand that resulting from my way of photographing, where I follow my instincts and also because I am Western and not Chinese, I am representing an outsiders-perspective by definition. Therefore, I wanted to add a third layer. In this third layer I have tried to add an insider/outsider perspective. I have asked a friend, Tanya Khingeeva, who is originally from Siberia (Russia) to reflect on my images. She has been traveling to China for over 20 years and had recently lived there for 5 years. As she is extremely good in languages (apart from Russian and their local language, she speaks English and Dutch fluidly and learned Korean and Japanese at interpreter’s level). She also managed to master the Chinese language very quickly and was therefore able to communicate with the people around here, almost right from the start. I have interviewed her and summarized fragments from these conversations. I could see these woven into this book.

These texts are derived from the conversations with Tanya

Chinese construction workers never seem to stop, almost like machines or robots. I recall asking one of the employees who was pouring asphalt in the blistering sun if it was not too heavy for him. He was very astonished. He responded: we are not uncomfortable; we are at work.

The small Chinese apartments are filled with stuff; sometimes literally overflowing the apartment. Corridors become an extension of the living rooms. When walking through the shared hallways, you can get a pretty good idea of who is living there. Are they old, young, do they have children, are they rich or poor?

Ren shan ren hai – Chinese saying
a mountain of people, an ocean of people
Competition is one of the most common words in the Chinese language. Everybody, young and old, works extremely hard and is striving to get the best jobs. Interestingly, not so much for status or because they like their job. Money their driver. It is the only thing in life that gives guarantee; it allows you to buy food and goods. It is almost like a new religion.

Children are the promise of the future; they are the parents’ life insurance. Pregnant women are a box carrying a treasure.
After years of one-child politics, pressures to increase the number of children now may put a heavy strain on women. Having a child is very expensive too, the costs for education and university lay a high burden on the family budget. Recently it was in the news that a woman was admitted to the hospital for psychological distress when her mother-in-law had asked her daily for the last 3 years when she would have another child.

Chinese invent very creative and poetic names to everyday dishes. Western brands are given a new Chinese name that both sounds like the original, but also have a joyful meaning. Coca Cola for example is referred to as the phonetic equivalent “ko-kou-ko-le”, which can be loosely translated as “happiness in the mouth.”

You can tell by the hair of Chinese men how well off they are. The better their hair is cut, the higher their social position. All Chinese men dye: hair will be black, as it should be.

When I first came to China, some 20 years ago, there were only a few buses, little cars and an abundance of bikes. Two decades later, China has completely changed. However, modernity and tradition are still close. Although living in a fancy apartment, beans may still be grown in the garden next to their house, as has been done for centuries.


Eli Dijkers (1978) was born and raised in The Netherlands. He graduated from the Academy of Photography in Rotterdam in 2012, after having been awarded a PhD in Pharmacy, Nuclear Medicine and Oncology. Since then, he has received many recognitions for his photographic work, including multiple Honourable Mentions at the Black & White Spider Awards, Commended photographer in the Sony World Photography Awards and several Honourable Mentions at the Monochrome awards. He was winner of the Porta Coeli Artist Residency Award at the XIth edition of the International Contemporary Art Biennale of Florence and awarded Ilford MASTER in 2018, together with Sebastião Salgado.

Eli graduated the academy of photography with his interpretation of the city he lives in, Rotterdam, titled Temporal Existence. Post-graduation, he was one out of 12 photographers selected to document the city of Rotterdam. In addition, he is author of the self-published book Enigma, a confronting series of images about daily life on the streets of India. 

Eli’s work has been extensively exhibited within the Netherlands and abroad. His first solo-exhibition at gallery Deelen Art, was curated by Sun Hee Engelstoft, at the time editor to Magnum photographer Jacob Aue Sobol. In 2018 his work on China was shown as a solo exhibition for six successive months in de Kunsthal (museum of contemporary art) in Rotterdam. In 2021 his work is exhibited on the Bund in Shanghai in collaboration with Moyi Art and the Dutch Ambassy. In South of Italy, Eli’s work will be presented, together with rarely shown work of Henri Cartier-Bresson. The opening will be during the G20 summit. 

To date, Eli’s images have been exhibited in China, the USA, the United Kingdom, Italy, Greece, Denmark, Germany, Czech, Slovakia and France. He is currently represented by Moyi Art (China) and Porta Coeli (Italy) and was represented by Gallery Deelen Art (NL) from 2013 until the gallery ceased to exist in 2019.