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  • The White Night Photo Studio
  • Wang Suxin (bio)
    Translation from Chinese by Chen Zeping and Karen Gernant

Zhao Ming and Yu Sheng had worked together for nine years. Other people probably assumed they were a couple, but in fact—other than work—they had nothing to do with each other. Perhaps this was odd, but they were used to this situation.

They were running a small photo studio. Yu Sheng wore her hair short, and she was tall; from a distance, she looked more like a man. Occasionally, she would walk out of the studio and stroll in the vegetable market or supermarket in nearby West Spring Park Road. In his spare time, Zhao Ming mopped the floor until it gleamed and scrubbed the windows and signboards. No matter how loud, dirty, and messy were the nearby stalls selling homemade biscuits and fried noodles, their shopfront was always spotlessly clean—like glass.

Time carved Yu Sheng's face thinner and thinner over the years. She painted thin, rather flat eyebrows. Even heavy eye shadow on her eyelids couldn't hide her wrinkles. But Zhao Ming didn't change much. He did become shrewder over time, and it looked as though he was pinching a stone between his eyebrows—one couldn't tell when it might fall.

They had arrived in the city separately, both poverty stricken. It wasn't until the first master of the White Night Photo Studio had taken them in that they settled down in Yi City. No one knew what they did before, and not everyone knew what they did now.


People could easily find the White Night Photo Studio.

This shop was probably the only one in the city that needed no advertising for people to hear about it. From the time it was established fifteen years ago, its low prices and good family photos had brought it city-wide renown. But as more and more people bought their own cameras, fewer people went there for family portraits. Other than a few old acquaintances dropping by, Zhao Ming and Yu Sheng might spend the entire day without a single person coming to the studio.

But in the evening, everything was different.

Promptly at seven, Yu Sheng came back from the supermarket to cook dinner. Zhao Ming set the table, and they ate dinner sitting across from each other like old friends. At around eight o'clock, people would arrive at the shop by car, subway, or bus, or on foot. [End Page 160]

The customers normally did not talk with each other. As they waited outside, even if they ran into someone they knew, they didn't chat. They tacitly agreed to remain quiet. Zhao Ming and Yu Sheng talked with the customers separately, noting down each one's requests, background information, the charges, and the time they would return to pick up the photos. When the two finished, it was often nearly eleven o'clock.

Yu Sheng turned off the lights in case anyone knocked on the door after this, and Zhao Ming paged through his address book searching for appropriate "models." Most of the models lived outside the city, and rushed in as a group only on weekends or holidays. Sometimes, the two of them went out with their equipment. After taking the photos, Zhao Ming worked in the darkroom for a long time. Sometimes it was Yu Sheng who worked in the darkroom. Anyhow, whoever it was, they divided the work.

Because they'd been together a long time, they became more and more like one individual. When Zhao Ming was walking on the street, he was often taken for Yu Sheng, and Yu Sheng was often taken for Zhao Ming. It was only when they were sitting conscientiously in the studio waiting for customers that they were separate individuals, each playing a distinct role. In that circumstance, one wouldn't approach the wrong person.

One day, a customer showed up late at night.


The White Night Photo Studio generally didn't do business after eleven o'clock at night, yet an exception was made for Li Langlang. Even though this city of migrants had never lacked new faces, people...


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pp. 160-175
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