Photographing Faces In A Billion

Commissioned by the UK’s Guardian, photographers Mathias Braschler and Monika Fischer spent six months trudging through nearly every province in China producing what has turned out to be a truly stunning series of portraits published in yesterday’s Guardian magazine. The Guardian’s China correspondent Jonathan Watt’s writes an interesting behind-the-scenes piece from Yunnan Province that illustrates some of the difficulties involved:

We reach Wuliang, a small rural community, on market day. Our driver is nervous when we ask him to stop. “Be extra polite,” he says. “These people are rough. They drink blood and eat raw meat.” The live animals, open-air hairdressers and general hustle and bustle of the mountain market make it a compelling subject, but the crowds drawn by the oddity of foreigners will make it hard to take pictures. “It’s gonna be chaos,” our driver predicts.

A pork seller agrees to a portrait. He is a good subject: strong features, colourful stall and friendly manner. All he wants in return for the shoot is for somebody to buy a pig’s head for 50 yuan (£3.60). But setting up a large format camera and lights takes time. As the minutes pass, the crowd grows bigger. Soon the throng is blocking the thoroughfare and a neighbouring stallholder is demanding compensation for lost business. Fifty yuan, he says, is not enough. There are shouts and jostling. The manager of the market is called. Braschler is forced to abandon the shoot. He is bitterly disappointed. But the driver, at least, is pleased to be leaving what he considers a wild community.

Several worthwhile videos from the Yunnan shoot, including footage from the failed butcher portrait, are available here.

July 6, 2008 9:10 PM
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