Review by Gerhard Clausing •
China, the country that mass-produces for the rest of the world, has also undergone many internal changes in the 21st century, and this project illuminates one such aspect: the upscale desires of China’s rising middle class. For several years Joyce Rohrmoser was hired as a foreign ‘presence’ for the marketing of luxury goods. As such, her very attendance at business planning meetings, sales events, and other merchandising activities provided signals of recognition and importance to the well-to-do middle class in China. The value of upscale products – better-quality purses, fashion shoes, etc. in Chinese society seems to be enhanced by testimonials from foreign influencers, hence the phrase and title of this photobook, “rent a foreigner” (referencing the Chinese colloquial term laowei ‘foreigner’), used here for those employed in supplying status and added visibility and value to such products.
This book starts and ends with several pages of sepia photographs of those highly desired luxury items, as shown below. The rest of the book (some additional 100 pages) fall into three main parts: 1. images that show the contextual framework, including landscapes and cityscapes of China; 2. portraits of mostly younger people who are the intended audience for the products; 3. business venues and encounters that illustrate points of persuasion and other business moments. Thus we have a very nice visual compendium of the promotional efforts to make these special goods appear more desirable.
The images in this photobook provide an excellent tour through the venues and the subsegment of the society to be addressed; they not only convey the occasions, but also the moods of these moments of attributed importance. We get a sense of an increasingly upwardly mobile middle class of younger professionals who are eager to improve their lot and appear to long for status symbols that are seen as enhancing their lives. The portraits of the young people are accompanied by short quotes in which they outline their goals and aspirations, which are not unlike those of groups in other countries, of similar age and economic status.
The images of formal business presentations and sales events (such as at conventions and industry fairs) are an excellent record of the persuasion techniques carried over from capitalist countries to a newly receptive society that was previously neither privy nor susceptible to such influencing. There certainly is a lot of flair, pomp and circumstance, including red carpets, that make up this large-scale marketing effort. The role of the ‘foreigner’ as a respected centerpiece becomes very obvious in the sequencing of these documentary and mood-capturing photographs.
It is noteworthy that Joyce Rohrmoser refrains from applying satire or any other critical layer to her observations. Obviously, the fascination with and valuation of other cultures is also prevalent in Europe. The long and very illuminating essay by Karl-Markus Gauss testifies to that, and explains the whole process in greater detail as well. He also describes Rohrmoser’s approach to the audience, including her own family’s background in international business.
This project is a fascinating study of enhancement techniques applied in a cross-cultural process that vacillates between reality and illusion.
Joyce Fischer Rohrmoser – Rent a Foreigner
Photographer: Joyce Fischer Rohrmoser (born in Milan, Italy; lives in Salzburg, Austria)
Publisher: Fotohof edition, Salzburg, Austria; © 2019
Essay: Karl-Markus Gauss
Languages: German and English
Hardcover, illustrated and debossed, sewn binding; 116 pages with 30 monochrome and 81 color images; 21.5 x 28.5 cm (8.5 x 11.25 inches); printed and bound in Austria by Holzhausen Druck GmbH, Wolkersdorf
Photobook Designer: Christian Wachter