Photographers' Blog

A wider view of China’s Congress

Beijing, China

By Carlos Barria

China’s once-in-a-decade leadership transition was for me a great opportunity to photograph an event that, although it all happens behind closed doors, still offers an interesting kind of visual access.


For example, the 18th Party Congress, where China ordained its new leadership, was a unique opportunity for journalists to wander around – with fewer restrictions than normal — in the Great Hall of the People. As a first-timer, I found the building itself imposing, and full of details and un-explored corners.

I thought it would be interesting to try using a panoramic format this time, to give a sense of the officialdom surrounding the event, and the large, intimidating spaces where it was all happening. Panoramas also helped me to see more than one scene in a single picture.

The rigid and secretive atmosphere, contrasted with the warm light of the Hall’s interior, gave the place a strange feeling. There were watchers sitting erect in dark suits, guarding access to doors, walkways and elevators, as if they were part of the décor.

One very cold morning, soldiers stood in the emblematic Tiananmen Square in front of the Great Hall. It was empty and heavily secured. As the sun rose, a long line of buses transporting party delegates arrived and the show began. Delegates from every corner of China walked into the building to attend an opening speech by outgoing President Hu Jintao.

Big shoes to fill

By Carlos Barria

Eight years ago, Chen Mingzhi quit his factory job and became a shoe designer. But it was slow going at first, so he passed the time honing his skill by making smaller and smaller shoes.

A couple of years later, a neighbor challenged him to do something outside his comfort zone — to create a giant shoe.

Chen accepted the challenge and started right away. “I wanted to prove that I could do it”, Chen said later.

China’s “wonderful” Communist village

By Jason Lee

Growing up as a Chinese national, I leaned a lot about Communism through text books. On Monday it only took a one and a half hour flight and one hour drive to travel from China’s modern cultural and political center, Beijing, to the small communist society at Nanjie Village.

Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be so easy. There were no entrance tickets, no security guards, and no one had to check our vehicle. We drove all the way to the village center, where a giant statue of the late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong stood in the middle of a square, waving at me. Next to him were four portraits of his communism comrades: Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. The loudspeakers at the square repeatedly played the classic revolutionary song “The East Is Red”; the same song played in outer space in 1970 after China’s first satellite was put into orbit.


The entire Nanjie village consisted of dozens of factories and several main streets. Faces of Mao Zedong were everywhere. There were very few people or cars on the street, which might have been the reason why all the traffic lights in the village were not working, not even at the crossroads. I jumped up and down with my cameras in the middle of the street to get good angles, which could easily get me killed if I were in a different town. But luckily the people of Nanjie seemed to move at a slow pace and be pleasant.

China in color or black and white?

By Carlos Barria

I have heard this question asked a million times: would this picture be better in color, or in black and white? I grew up in the color era, but I do remember seeing television programs in black and white. That was before 1990, when my parents bought a color television to watch Argentina’s national soccer team play in the World Cup in Italy. (We won the Cup in 1986… in black and white.)

I find myself wondering sometimes whether a particular story, or a particular picture, would be stronger or clearer in black and white, or in color. To some degree, the answer is imposed. I work for a media organization that provides clients with color pictures, so I photograph in color.

But sometimes I like to experiment with converting pictures to black and white, just to see how they look. Recently I visited two Communist Party schools in China where trainees attended courses to reaffirm their foundation as Communist Party members. During the trip I went first to Jianggangshan in Jiangxi province, a historical area where former Chinese leader Mao Zedong fought the Nationalists, as a leader of the newly created Red Army. Then I visited a modern school in Pudong, in the cosmopolitan hub of Shanghai.

Protesting – Beijing style

By David Gray

Starting last Wednesday, I have been riding my bike to the Japanese embassy in Beijing to cover protests against the Japanese government purchasing disputed islands in the East China Sea. These protests started off with just a few people – perhaps a few dozen – as ‘Beijingers’ are not used to being allowed to voice their opinions loudly (and most importantly, in large numbers) on the streets about anything.


The day it was announced that Japan had bought the islands, small groups of protesters were ushered into position by officials outside the main entrance to the embassy, and allowed to yell slogans and hold banners for around 10 minutes at a time. Some occasionally threw a water bottle or small stone over the gate, but they were quickly led away by plainclothes police with what can only be described as a ‘friendly’ warning.

So, we turned up on Saturday, thinking it would be yet another day of monotonous chanting and yelling. We carried our ladders, which had become necessary because the area that officials had deemed ‘adequate for press requirements’ was of course ridiculously small and we needed them to see over the top of each other. At first, a few groups arrived, but not in substantial numbers. But the word must have got out that protests were being ‘allowed’, and quite unexpectedly, thousands of people appeared and began pushing the outnumbered riot police guarding the embassy’s main entrance.

Keeping safe in a quake-hit zone

By Jason Lee

Around noon on September 7 two shallow earthquakes struck the mountainous area of Yiliang county of Yunnan province, China. I received my assignment to travel to the area at around 6 p.m. when the death toll reached 60.


As you can imagine, it is never easy to get to an earthquake-hit area. I had only 20 minutes to pack and prepare before a 3-hour flight. After that, I traveled another 8 hours by car followed by a one hour ride on the back of a motorcycle before reaching my destination. Along the road I didn’t see many collapsed buildings, but there were lots of giant rocks that had probably rolled down from mountains as the quake hit, as a result, many cars were smashed into pieces.

My memory of covering the deadly 2008 Sichuan earthquake gradually came back — apart from the damage that had already been done, I needed to watch out for possible landslides and other dangers. Every aftershock brought with it more risk for the residents and rescuers in the worst-hit area, as they were at the foot of several huge rocky mountains.

Ye Shiwen: Innocent until proven guilty

By Carlos Barria

As the day starts, parents accompany their kids to the Chen Jing Lun Sports School. In the entrance a sign reads, “Today’s sports school student, tomorrow’s Olympics stars” – a reminder of where it’s possible to go with hard work.

A girl with swimming goggles around her forehead waits for training to begin. She muses over portraits of famous Chinese swimmers hanging on the wall. Among them is a portrait of London Olympics double gold medalist Ye Shiwen.


Years ago, at age 6, Ye arrived at this same pool without any swimming experience. But a couple of months later she had mastered the freestyle and the backstroke. “Ye Shiwen never told me that she was tired, or that she didn’t want to swim anymore. She never said that,” her former coach Wei Wei remembers.

Welcome to China’s communist bunker bar

By David Gray

China never, ever fails to amaze. What better way to preserve a former Communist Party military leader’s cave headquarters, then to make it into a bar? Not just any bar, but a ‘Military Bar’, decorated with furniture made from old ordnance. What better way to use old artillery shells and land mines than to turn them into bar stools? Brilliant. It does make you ponder the question – now why didn’t I think of that?


Deep in the mountains west of Beijing, and extremely difficult to find, lies a cave where the former Communist military Marshal Lin Biao made his headquarters during certain military ‘disagreements’ with Russia in 1968. However, from this cave it is alleged he was also plotting the assassination of Chairman Mao Zedong. He died in 1971 when his plane mysteriously crashed in Mongolia, and shortly thereafter, he was officially condemned as a traitor by the Communist Party.

This intriguing history is the reason for the entrance of the cave being shaped in the form of an airplane (definitely a strange site at the foot of a mountain). A very realistic cockpit greets visitors just inside the door.

An oddly beautiful surprise

By Aly Song

This wasn’t what I expected at all when I arrived at the beach of Qingdao city in China’s eastern Shandong province.


I was assigned to shoot portraits for a Reuters story on a Chinese airline company. We settled down to plan to board an aircraft with the company CEO, photographing him and other passengers on the plane. So, I booked myself a 24-hour round trip from Shanghai to Qingdao bearing in mind that during the half day in Qingdao I could shoot the green algae along the beaches which appears almost every summer.

However, my plan turned out to be a failure. The weather wasn’t hot enough so there was very little algae. I was about to head back disappointed until I glanced at these women swimming in the ocean. They were wearing full-size masks on their head which looked a lot like wrestler’s masks to me. I could imagine these women coming onto the beach very soon and starting to fight.

Leading a Kung Fu life

By Jason Lee

I drove to a small town about 60 km (37 miles) from central Beijing. I couldn’t believe there was an International Kung Fu Club in such a quiet and remote place. The Lixian Fusheng International Martial Arts Club is the home of Master Chen Fusheng and 11 students currently studying and living there.

Master Chen was an orphan. He was sent to a local nursing home at 8-years-old, where he started learning moves and skills from some elderly martial arts experts. This marked the beginning of his Kung Fu life. Chen says he aims to promote “Real Chinese Kung Fu”. To Chen, a master of many types of martial arts, some Kung Fu has become a sort of performance. He believes though his students didn’t travel thousands of miles to study performance, they want to study the real thing which could help them defeat their opponents and protect themselves.

Master Chen has taught them the ethics and spirit of Chinese Kung Fu; always be patient and tolerant, know how to control strength and power, to resolve danger and not to hurt or kill people (some Kung Fu skills are lethal according to Chen).

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