A US entrepreneur's visual voyage in Shenzhen
Writer: Yang Mei | Editor: Zhang Chanwen | From: Shenzhen Daily | Updated: 2023-09-19
In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak embarked on a groundbreaking journey by crafting the first Apple computer in the garage of Jobs' childhood home in Los Altos — the heart of America's Silicon Valley.
In the same spirit of innovation, Joshua Fernandez, a Bolivian-American entrepreneur, initiated his own venture a decade ago in a modest apartment in Shenzhen, China's Silicon Valley, near Shenzhen North Railway Station in Longhua District.
Fresh from graduating with a bachelor’s degree in design from Purdue University in his home state of Indiana, the U.S., the then 20-something landed in Shenzhen with little more than an adventurous spirit. Recounting those early days, Fernandez recalled, "At that time I was young and impressionable, I just wanted to get out, and some of my friends hyped up Shenzhen for me, so I just came here and started to find jobs.”
Several years into his first job in Shenzhen as a designer, Fernandez and his partner took a leap of faith by leaving their comfortable office jobs to establish their own business. They began by selling products on Amazon, operating out of a 700 yuan (US$97) per-month rental apartment. Their enterprise experienced rapid growth, doubling in size year after year. Today, the company is an international trading company employing roughly 30 employees and specializing in the development and sales of cutting-edge mobile accessories.
While firmly rooted in Shenzhen's entrepreneurial landscape, the 35-year-old entrepreneur has discovered a newfound passion — photography. Specifically, he uses his camera to document life in Shenzhen by capturing its people and spirit.
Fernandez takes a photo of himself in a mirror. Photos by courtesy of the interviewee
“I thought that I was originally a designer, so I always admire photographers and people who can shoot a nice photo. And I always thought, why don't I do that myself?” Fernandez said. He views the city's rapid development and enhanced urban infrastructure as catalysts for nurturing his newfound passion.
“I feel lucky to live in a city that has developed so quickly and so modern like this. I think if I were in another place, I wouldn't have opportunity to explore new things while developing my business,” Fernandez shared with Shenzhen Daily. “Moreover, the city is more walkable and better for pedestrians than before. I think that's also one of the big improvements,” he said.
Fernandez said his passion for photography also enables him to go out and notice people more. “When I wasn't a photographer, I felt like there are just a ton of people living the same mundane life. Why would I care about that? But as a photographer, it allows me to care about and connect with other people,” he said.
Although Fernandez modestly labels himself as an amateur photographer, he more deeply engages with online photography communities and social media platforms than with local expat photographers to share his work. As he said, “I'm a little intimidated by them because they're really good and they are more serious about photography than I am.”
Two years ago, Fernandez started to share his Shenzhen photos on Unsplash, a stock photography site that offers high-resolution images for personal, editorial, and most commercial purposes free of charge. Fernandez also posts photos on Instagram and Chinese lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu. The photographer found that online photography communities are “mostly positive” since users often praise photographers’ works. “I like the positive side of online platforms, it's good for me using photography as an escape. Whenever I get cynical or frustrated about work, I’ll turn to photography to take a break,” he said.
A photo of the stunning Nanshan skyline Joshua Fernandez took while hiking around the peak of Nanshan Mountain in Nanshan District on April 11, 2021. The photo was published on Unsplash on June 7, 2021. As of Sept. 18, 2023, the photo has attracted 511,894 views and 3,870 downloads.
In a delightful turn of events, not long ago, world-renowned Dutch pianist Michiel Borstlap released a song named “Shenzhen” as a part of his 2024 solo album “World Tour.” The album's cover featured a photograph of the Nanshan skyline taken by Fernandez during a hike on Dananshan Mountain. When asked about this recognition, Fernandez said he was proud and happy. “I'm always happy if someone acknowledges my work. Even though, personally, I think the photo is a very average and typical photo. But, I’m happy that they appreciate it in their own way and find a use for it.”
Apart from sharing photos online, Fernandez actively participates in the Expats Eye Shenzhen Photo Contest to further showcase his work and communicate with other expat photographers in Shenzhen. Fernandez commends the event and believes it “should happen more often.”
“It puts a spotlight on local photographers. We spend our weekends, our afternoons, and evenings walking around the city. We are like walking advertisements for the city with our photos. I think if we can expand this more, we can attract more talent and push more interest to the city,” he said.
While photography can be an expensive hobby often requiring significant investments in high-end camera gear, Fernandez prefers experimenting with older cameras from the 2000s and 2010s and lenses from the 1980s and 1970s because they are more affordable.
Fernandez encourages aspiring photographers to start with tools that are readily available to them. “You have a phone, you're a photographer. You don't need to worry about the concept of being a photographer. Take photos of your friends, take photos of random people, and then see what you like, what your style is. Take a look at other people's photos, how they make their photos, understand more about it.”
Looking ahead, Fernandez intends to focus on photographing Shenzhen’s interestingly designed landmark buildings and project developments. He believes that the dynamic environment of this mega city offers endless opportunities for capturing its unique essence.