Alejandro Acin’s work A Trading Journey is currently exhibiting at the M-Shed gallery.  A contemporary photographic exhibition looking at the relationship between trading activities and their environment in Guangzhou, China – Bristol’s twin city.

As part of the Being Human Festival, Alejandro is exhibiting his documentary work inspired by trading relationships between Bristol Guangzhou (Canton) which has over 2,000 years of history and is a global trading hub.


Alejandro Acin’s photo exhibition has taken inspiration from 34,000 images taken from the University of Bristol’s ‘Historical Photographs of China’ project, creating a visual narrative based on the routine trading activities of market traders and their relations with their environment. The digitising initiative is one of three cultural engagement partnerships sponsored by the AHRC-funded British Inter-university China Centre.

Guangzhou has been an important point of contact between China and Europe since the early eighteenth century with all foreign trade restricted to just this port city.

Bristol based photographer Alejandro Acin has photographed some of the most important markets in Guangzhou. He has created a visual narrative based on the routine trading activities of market traders and their relations with their environment.

The exhibition is displayed within a shipping container on the city’s dockside linking to Bristol’s own trading past.  Talking to us about the project, Alejandro explains:

“The project took almost a year, from the research stage to this point.  I’ve always been interested in the global markets and responses and decided to put this into a photography project.  I had the opportunity to spend time in Canton in China – a very important trading spot.  Particularly in the fabric trade.  I also think this is something we can relate to – trading is universal. How the markets work across different countries and cultures.”

Alejandro is originally from a small city near the Pyrenees in Spain, and has a background in Environmental Science.  His love for documenting life through visual art and photography, eventually culminated in him being awarded a scholarship to study in Columbia for a year.  Upon returning, he decided to bring his ideas and experience to Bristol, where he has lived for the past six years.

“It was in Columbia that I realised I wanted to make my photography interest into a professional career, so I set about finding a way to make this my way of living.  So I brought all of these ideas back to Bristol.”  Alejandro explains.

Although not speaking the native language of Canton, Alejandro devised a way of communicating with his subjects to put them at ease and gain their permissions for featuring them in his documentary work:

“In general, I didn’t have any troubles in approaching people. Normally, I am trying not to bother people.  I do not speak Chinese or Mandarin, so my only resource was having a piece of paper with a few sentences written down. So if I wanted to approach someone, this was very useful.  It worked really well, because people knew exactly what I was doing.”

Alejandro also lectures on his profession as part of Bristol’s IC-Visual Lab based in Old Market.  He is currently working on simultaneous projects including a commission to create a photo project based on Bristol’s industrial background.  

With a three week trip to China coming up, as well as many visual projects based in Bristol, Alejandro feels quite at home here, as he says:

“I don’t make plans ahead further than a year at a time. At the moment I am quite happy in Bristol, there is a lot going on here related to my work. Bristol is a good city to be based.  It would be nice to take this project around to the different twin cities of Bristol.”