He's Behind You!

Surprise attack – a photo essay by Joseph Johnson


When I arrived in China in late 2010, I was both overwhelmed and in awe. Like anyone experiencing an environment for the first time, I was fascinated by the new sights all around me – the landscapes, the architecture, the people.

He’s Behind You (身后) is a photography series that came about as a result of two things: the language barrier, and my general reluctance to point my camera in strangers’ faces (although locals on the Shanghai metro had no problem with it). Rather than not photographing people at all, I made the best of my self-imposed limits and started shooting subjects from behind.

The process was a gift. It made me notice details in clothing, gestures, posture, and how people in the different towns and cities I visited interacted with their environments. I saw tradition and modernity, similarities and differences.

Over the years, I have become more confident both linguistically and in my photography practices, but I still like to look back at these pictures as a document of the people I observed in my early years in China. I also revisit the practice from time to time, as it makes me more pay more attention to detail, and the way people carry themselves when they think no one is watching.


The daily drudge - Shanghai, 2011

Over the wall - Yangzhou, 2011

Generational patterns - Shanghai, 2011

Friendship at Sun Yat-Sen Mausoleum - Nanjing, 2011

Balancing act - Shaolin Temple, 2011

When the heat is on, take it off - Shanghai, 2011

Suburban gestures - Yangzhou, 2011

Urban gestures - Beijing, 2011

Admiring the artwork - Suzhou, 2011

Stuck in a rut - Shanghai, 2011

Makeshift market - Shanghai, 2011

Wherever you can - Shanghai, 2011

Hunky - Hangzhou, 2011

Boys in blue - Shanghai, 2011

Joseph Johnson is a filmmaker and photographer from the UK. He lived in China from 2010-2014

This a selection by Joseph from photos that first appeared on his blog here