Early in October, in the third-tier Chinese city of Hefei in the province of Anhui, the young street photographer Tao Liu became an overnight sensation. His witty images, which poke fun at contemporary issues in China – from overindulging parents to commercialism and the boundless urban expansion – were first shown on Weibo, China’s Twitter-like social network, by Life Week magazine.
Within 24 hours, the post had been shared more than 40,000 times, attracting the attention of the Chinese Central Television network. A week later, Liu was a household name in China.
With an ever-growing photography market, fueled by the popularity of high-end digital SLRs, China doesn’t lack quality imagery. Yet, Liu’s images struck a chord when others didn’t. His work often comes across as humorous, but he tells TIME, his goal is to present his own take on the world, which, he says, is loosely defined and open for interpretation.
But Liu is not your conventional street photographer. Instead, the 32-year-old is a water-meter reader for the Hefei Water Supply Company. Every morning from 8.30 a.m., he rides his motorbike on the city’s roads and spends his day hunched over to record businesses’ water usage. Armed with a Fujifilm X100 camera, he lingers on the streets during lunch breaks and after work to satisfy his love for photography.