Photographers' Blog

People and landscape of southwest China

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David Gray presents an audio slideshow on China’s southwest region.

Why I became a news photographer – continued

 China Quake 1

I covered the aftermath of an earthquake years ago as a new-comer to the business. I was living in Rome and we had felt the quake as it struck a moutainous region of Southern Italy just before 8 o’clock on a Sunday evening in November.

It was first light by the time we got to the village of Balvano. As, I drove down into the valley, the village was blanketed by cloud. There was no sound, there were no lights but as we passed through the cloud, we became aware of an awful noise – the terrible wailing of the survivors.

Did my pictures convey the horror of it all like the ones we are seeing from China? Did they eloquently tell the story of the men, women and children of the village crushed when the roof of the Third Century Roman church fell in on them? No, I blew it. I was so completely overwhelmed by the scale of the suffering, by the death, destruction and misery that I blew it. Never having experienced anything remotely like it, I felt a complete interloper ashamed to be pointing a camera at people who had lost everything.  

Why I became a news photographer

The images of the earthquake relief effort in China have been horrifying and deeply moving and remind me what has always been so compelling about my job - the ease and speed with which still pictures can impart so much readily understood information to so many people.   

 Earth 6

Earth2

Earth08

Earth3

Earth 10

Earth4

Earth 9

Earth 07

China 8

Earth 14

And what brilliant pictures they are.

The Road West from Kangding

If someone had asked me just a few days ago what the worst road I could imagine in the world would be like, I would have told them probably a mountain road with lots and lots of rocks and pot-holes. Well, little did I imagine that these elements would combine with two mountain passes of around 4000 metres, vertical drops off the sides of around 500 metres, snow, ice and to top it all off, local police telling you that you cannot get to where you want to go.
The area is Sichuan Province in south-western China. The town is Kangding, located around 400 kilometres west of the capital Chengdu. The road leads west, towards Tibet. I am trying to cover the story about the violence that has spread into the province following the rioting in the Tibetan capital Lhasa on March 14. In order to find out what is going on, myself and text journalist John Ruwitch needed to get to another town called Litang, some 400 kilometres west of Kangding, where there were reports of trouble last week.

On the bus

John Ruwitch and I in front of the local bus we got taken off by police.

So we got on a local bus at 6.30am, ready for an 8 hour trip. Well, before we even leave the terminal, we were asked to get off by two local policemen. ‘Where are you going?’. Well, since the bus had the name of the town written on the windscreen directly behind where John and I were standing, we pointed to it. ‘Why are you going?’. John explained very simply in his excellent Chinese ‘Because we hear it is very beautiful’. That seemed to be a good answer, and we were allowed to get back on.
The bus started off some three minutes after the scheduled departure time of 7a.m. due to our little chat with the local constabulary, and no more than one kilometre down the road, the bus was stopped again. Another two policeman got on the bus, and again we were asked to get off. ‘Where are u going?’ was the question once more. Same answer. ‘Why are you going?’ Same answer again. And to our surprise after a 20 minute delay this time, which the locals on the bus were not at all pleased about, we got back on the bus and once more started our journey.
The road started off just fine. Winding up the first mountain pass (this one was only 3800 metres-high) the snow from the previous night gave everything the look of being wrapped in a beautiful white blanket. And when the sun rose, the gorgeous morning light added a warm glow to an already pristine scene.
We got 100 kilometres from Kangding. All good.
150 kilometres, all good.
At 200 kilometres, a local official was at a toilet stop. He looked at the bus, but did not get onboard. On we went.
250 kilometres, we continued west.

Water closet

The water closet along the road, and trust me, you don’t want to go inside…