Photographers' Blog

Making it as a masseuse

Zhengzhou, China
By Jason Lee

I have to admit that I’m a massage addict. I’m hooked on the magical, relaxing effects that massage has, especially after a tiring day of shooting pictures that leaves many of my muscles sore.

My love for the art and my sense of curiosity brought me to the Chinese city of Zhengzhou to photograph the training center of a leading massage company – Huaxia Liangtse.

When I first saw the gloomy classrooms and humble dormitories they seemed a long way from Huaxia Liangtse’s luxurious massage stores in Beijing. But the basic conditions did not deter students.

Among the 60 trainees I photographed, my camera was gradually drawn to a young girl named Wang Feng. To be honest, she didn’t stand out among the crowd that much – she was relatively short and always wore a satchel slung over her chest. But careful observation told me that she was a serious learner and a hard worker. We talked a lot, and I was pleased to gain her trust to the point that she stopped feeling nervous in front of my camera.

As a massage addict, I’ve found that masseuses and I have many interests in common: how to have a healthy life; what it is like to work in big cities; and even what sort of unusual people we meet through our jobs.

The teachings of Mao

Sitong, China

By Carlos Barria

In a remote farming area of China’s central province of Henan, kids are roused from their warm beds at 5 a.m. as revolutionary songs play over the loudspeaker system. In the freezing morning they gather around a cement courtyard for their morning exercises.

Mr. Xia Zuhai, principal of the Democracy Elementary and Middle school — where the curriculum stresses the teachings of China’s late Chairman Mao Zedong — blows his whistle and encourages the students while they run around in the darkness for 20 minutes.

Then, the children enter a cold classroom where a big portrait of Chairman Mao is seen on the wall, decked out with colorful balloons in preparation for the 120th anniversary of Mao’s birth on Dec. 26.

Little gladiators: China’s cricket fighting

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-hoon

On a late summer day in Beijing while roaming through the narrow alleyways of an old pet market I heard the chirping of insects. It was such a refreshing sound on a stiflingly hot day. At one point, the chirping grew louder and louder, and my curiosity led me into one alley. There, I found countless little insects in bird cages and small jars on sale and waiting for their new owners.

According to a cricket expert, keeping crickets as singing pets is an old Chinese tradition which dates back more than 3,200 years. Unlike in some countries, where people treat crickets with disdain and repel them with bug spray, in China the chirping of crickets traditionally has been regarded as beautiful music. Even more interesting than the singing crickets in small cages was the men observing hundreds of small jars with very serious faces.

The creatures in these small jars were small brown crickets, and the men were looking for little gladiators to bring them the glory of victory in cricket fights. Cricket fight lovers claim that this sport has more than 1,000 years of history in China and that there are many Chinese who still enjoy this ancient tradition every year in August through October.

China’s pint-sized snooker prodigy

Xuancheng, China

By Jianan Yu

My understanding of snooker starts with top world players such as China’s Ding Junhui, Britain’s Stephen Hendry and Ronnie O’Sullivan. But recently, a three-year-old Chinese player in Anhui province is capturing attention after a video of him playing showed up on the Internet. Some called him “Snooker Wonder Child”, others wrote, “Next O’Sullivan”. I wanted to find out how great this kid was.

GALLERY: THREE-YEAR-OLD SNOOKER STAR

Wang Wuka’s home is in a rural area on the edge of a small city. His father Wang Yin just turned 30, mainly supporting his family by selling miniature potted plants and tree trunks. Wang Yin’s favorite hobby is snooker, and he has a table at home. A few years ago, Wang met his wife Huang online. They soon got married and Huang gave birth to Wuka, or Kaka as he is called by his family.

“In the beginning, Kaka liked to crawl around on the pool table.” Wang Yin said. “When he was one year old, I made him a small cue and slowly taught him how to play pool on a smaller eight-ball table. When he reached two, he could hit nearly all the shots on the eight-ball table, therefore I started teaching him snooker.”

The women of China’s workforce

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

Sometimes a good story comes naturally.

As a follow-up to China’s mighty urbanization policy, I gained access to a huge construction site within a new residential development zone some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from Shanghai’s city center. My original plan was to photograph the lives of Chinese migrant workers at night. I imagined that they would probably go to some colorful places and do some interesting things after nightfall. But I was completely wrong – every day they went straight back to their dormitories, where they would eat, chat, play some poker, probably watch an outdoor movie once a month, and that’s it!

I was about to give up when I noticed that there were many women at the dormitories. I got curious so I asked other workers: “Your boss has no problem having wives living here too?” One of them replied: “They also work here at the construction site.” To be honest, I was very surprised because in my mind, construction work has always been a job for men.

From that moment, it was natural that I turned my camera to the female workers. I went up to them, introduced myself, and asked for their permission to document their lives for a couple of days. I was lucky that the women and their husbands were all very nice.

Documenting the wealth gap in China

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-hoon

Showing the great contrast between China’s rich and poor in photos should be simple. After all, both exist just a few blocks away from each other or sometimes in the same place in any city. A poor family rides a rusty tricycle as a shiny Ferrari passes by. Just around the corner from an expensive restaurant, poor migrant workers eat cheap meals and take naps on the street.

But trying to get people to agree to be photographed was much more difficult than I expected. In six months of roaming around Beijing, visiting places where the rich congregate, such as luxury brand fashion boutiques and cocktail parties at fashion shows and even a luxury car maker’s promotional event, I tried all sorts of things, hoping that someone would open up their lifestyle to my lens.

But no rich person welcomed me and my camera. No one invited me to record this growing reality in China. Perhaps some were afraid that news of their wealthy lifestyle might go viral. Rich Chinese have reason to be shy of the cameras and interviews. The country’s new leader, Xi Jinping, has told people to cut out displays of ostentation. Moreover, the spending habits of wealthy Chinese have often sparked the ire of China’s microbloggers.

The most wanted photograph in China

Jinan, China

By Carlos Barria

As the morning approached, reporters, photographers and cameramen from national and foreign media organizations gathered outside the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court to cover the final chapter in the trial of disgraced Chinese politician Bo Xilai.

The stage for this story was Jinan, in the northeastern coastal province of Shandong. This story had all the elements of a great thriller: power, corruption, romance and murder. With no access to the courtroom itself, the foreign media and the general public relied on images provided by the court for glimpses of the trial. Also, for the first time China’s judicial system provided court transcripts, published on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.

The opportunities for photographing Bo Xilai stood at about zero. Authorities only allowed media to stake out the courthouse from a fenced area across the street, and even there we had to go through a security scan to get in. Some journalists complained that during the first morning of the trial police denied them movement in and out of this area to cover protests that were going on nearby.

Little angel Niuniu

Shanghai, China

By Aly Song

“Mom, can I touch the stuffed steamed bun? I won’t eat it, just touch.” Four-year-old Wang JiachengNiuniu, nicknamed Niuniu, said to his mother while desperately eager for a bite of the steamed bun stuffed with meat in front of him. Half a year ago, Niuniu was diagnosed with late stage neuroblastoma. Since then, he has undergone chemotherapy treatments which cause him to vomit constantly and make it almost impossible to eat anything, especially meat. Yan Hongyu, Niuniu’s mother, cast a bitter smile at her son’s naive request. She was still struggling to believe that her boy had to suffer such a great deal in his childhood.

GALLERY: A CHILD’S STRUGGLE

I came across Niuniu’s story while doing research to find a family for an in-depth picture story on China’s healthcare policy. Before I met them, I did some searches and found out there weren’t many treatments available in China for neuroblastoma, which is a neuroendocrine tumor arising from any neural crest element of the sympathetic nervous system. This cancer has a more successful treatment rate if the patient is less than two-years-old. But in Niuniu’s case, the risk is much higher. Nonetheless, Niuniu had surgery to remove the tumor. After that, he would have to completely rely on chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells.

Knowing the chances were slim, Niuniu’s parents committed to the treatment with 100% faith. Yan quit her job in Yancheng, Jiangsu province, and took her son to Shanghai for better medical services in early 2013. They rented a 10-square-meter small apartment near the hospital, and since then have been rushing between the two places. Niuniu’s father, who used to own a small company in Yancheng, recently sold the company in order to pay the bills. He was still taking some jobs in their hometown to make ends meet, but whenever he had a chance he would go to Shanghai to help his wife. “Nowadays, people just cannot afford to get sick” Yan said as she chatted with other patients’ relatives in the hospital. Before Niuniu fell ill, they were a happy upper-middle class family. But now the estimated cost for the entire treatment is over 300,000 yuan (48,991 USD), and the insurance can only cover as much as 80,000 yuan (13,064 USD). A huge financial burden, restless nights while taking care of Niuniu and mental anguish – none of this matters to Yan. “Nothing is worse than seeing my son suffer everyday,” Yan said. “I would rather myself being sick.”

Garbage recycling: Chinese style

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-Hoon

When I heard that the rate of recycling PET (polyethylene terephthalate) plastic bottles in China is almost 90%, I was surprised. Because I have noticed since moving to Beijing that the Chinese have no real concept of separating trash for recycling.

So, how do they accomplish it?

The first place I visited in tracking down the recycling process of PET bottles was Asia’s largest recycling factory, INCOM Resources Recovery in Beijing, which processes 50,000 tons of used PET bottles every year. In this factory, abandoned plastic bottles are transformed into clean PET plastic material for making new bottles. But what struck me the most was neither its automated machinery nor its huge piles of compressed plastic bottles stacked almost to the height of a two-story building. The more remarkable fact was that this high-end facility relies on thousands of garbage collectors rummaging through trash cans for more than one third of its supplies

The important role of this cheap labor in China’s recycling industry was apparent when I visited one of the estimated 20,000 small recycling depots on the outskirts of the capital. Different types of plastic garbage turned in by refuse collectors is sold to the recycling centers where it is converted into money after backbreaking work by the workers in the centers. Sitting next to the mountain of plastic bottles, the low-paid laborers are too busy to find time to breathe while removing labels from the bottles and separating them according to type of material.

China’s last armed village

Basha village, China

By Jason Lee

It took more than 12 hours by plane and long-distance bus to travel from Beijing to what is believed to be the last community authorized by the Chinese government to keep guns – the village of Basha. It is in Congjiang county, a grand mountainous area of Southwestern China. The village is a relatively mysterious place to most people, even in China, mainly because of its remoteness and poor economy.

Upon my arrival I noticed instantly one of its unique privileges – the marvelous natural scenery. I didn’t hear any gun shots at that moment, but I spontaneously set my cameras to silent mode, for fear of bothering the farmers working on the fields.

I decided to take a walk around Basha, an old ethnic Miao settlement with a population of over 2,200, like a tourist before getting onto my main assignment – to photograph the gun owners. I immediately fell in love with this village as it was so pristine and clean that it seemed to be from a completely different planet. I clearly remember the scene of the setting sun on a female cattle shepherd, sitting among fields and working on her embroidery, while a boundless view of the magnificent landscape extended beyond her.