Liu Tao, a 32-year-old water meter reader in the Chinese city of Hefei, has gained almost overnight fame as an amateur photographer. After a set of his photos went viral on Chinese social media earlier this year, Liu has been the subject of various profiles in Chinese (link in Chinese) and Western press and gained millions of followers (link in Chinese) online.
Liu says his initial inspiration was the Japanese street photographer Daido Moriyama, though some of Liu’s fans say his work is more reminiscent of photographer and documentary maker Elliott Erwitt. He taught himself the craft by reading photography books and magazines and using a VPN to watch talks by photographers on Youtube, which is banned in China. Liu roams the streets of Hefei during his lunch breaks and in the evening to take photos.
His photos feature ordinary moments—an elderly man fanning himself, a couple arguing on the street, food stall operators—but from different perspectives. Liu told the Chinese publication Global Times, “I want to remind people of the touching moments in life.”
Liu’s not all that comfortable with his newfound fame. ”I really hope the wave of media exposure can pass by soon so I don’t have to worry about who will like my photos. What I need is to grab a camera and take photos freely on the streets,” he said.