Photographers' Blog

Temple of Heaven

China’s elderly find life and joy in exercise

By Grace Liang and Lucy Hornby

BEIJING – Gao Mingyuan has found joy at age 66.

Joy, in his case, consists of bending himself double and hooking his legs around a pole that runs behind his shoulders, in a Chinese meditative martial arts tradition.

Gao is one of many Chinese seniors, freed from the rigors of work and raising children, who are turning to martial arts such as tai chi, bopping to trendy beats or singing patriotic songs as they seek health and friends in parks across the country.

“We forget all our troubles when we practice,” he said as he contorted himself at the Temple of Heaven, where seniors exercise beneath the gnarled trees at dawn.

China has over 140 million people over the age of 60. Many lost out on an education, thanks to the Cultural Revolution, and have retired early as state-owned factories went bust or to help care for grandchildren.

About 54 million engage in some sort of physical activity to enliven their golden years.

Making a submarine with scrap

Amateur inventor Tao Xiangli scoured second-hand markets for two years in search of spare parts for more than just a broken appliance. He’s built a home-made submarine he hopes will give him his big break. Read the full story here.

Beijing screens darkened by solar eclipse

Hundreds of images rushed into our picture editing system within 2 hours of the start of business on July 22, 2009 and kept flashing across our monitors all day long. The screens all seemed to be filled with nearly black rectangles: a technical problem? No. What was happening? Simple! All the pictures were of a total solar eclipse. Most of the images were just black.

A combination picture shows the sequence of a total solar eclipse as observed in Chongqing municipality July 22, 2009. The longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century began its flight on Wednesday across a narrow path of Asia, where it was expected to darken the skies for millions of people for more than six minutes in some places. REUTERS/Stringer

Ahead of the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century, staff photographers and dozens of stringers were positioned along the route of the blackout across central and eastern China. The first picture showing people holding welding masks to view the sun jumped onto our system around 8:30am, even before the eclipse started, but it was a bright picture and striking image. Then, as the moon gradually passed between the earth and sun blocking more and more light, the image tones got darker and darker. At 9:40am local time, the Yangtze Valley had gone dark and my screen showed this:

North Korea – From the outside looking in

Recently, I went to the Chinese border-town of Dandong on the Yalu River to see what I could photograph to match stories about reports that the North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was sick. Dandong is one of the closest towns on the border to the secretive country, and was the obvious choice due mainly to the chances of a journalist entering the highly restricted and reclusive country at such short notice being practically impossible. They don’t accept journalists at the best of times, let alone when their ‘dear leader’, as he is officially known, is not well. Kim has led communist North Korea for 14 years and if he was dead, the potentially nuclear-capable country could quickly become a scary and somewhat horrifying scenario.My hope for the assignment was that maybe I could get pictures of North Korean soldiers on border patrols, or perhaps even people working in the fields – something that showed life on the ‘other side’.

A local contact told us of boats for hire about one hours drive north of Dandong. I thought ok, it would be something like a small fishing village where the locals occasionally subsidise their incomes by taking people for rides to see the secretive side of the river, but when we arrived we found a thriving, well organised tourism industry. There was a fleet of six large boats that took 20 people at a time, or a fleet of speedboats that took five at a time. You could go for 20 minutes or for over an hour, cruising along the Chinese side of the river photographing or filming North Koreans washing their clothes or themselves, riding bicycles, tending their crops, or just fishing as they tried to get any extra food to supplement what measly portions they were obviously receiving.

Myself, text journalist Chris Buckley and Reuters cameraman Johnnie boarded a boat and headed towards the small town of Qing Cheng which was once connected to China via a bridge that protrudes from both sides of the river but had it’s middle portion blown-up 60 years ago – a symbolic reminder that this country is separated from the rest of the world.

Lucy in the sky with diamonds

Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds was my nickname yesterday.

My Olympic opening ceremony endurance test began with an 8am call to be on the roof of the Bird’s Nest stadium for a meeting of photographers.

I began my first of three climbs through the maze of steep, narrow catwalks with IOC pool photographers from AP, Getty, AFP and Xinhua. On either side of the path were sheets of glass through which the colored lights of the stadium are projected.

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We were told to wear fireproof suits, helmets and climbing harnesses over our clothes.  The Chinese fireworks technicians on the roof had sensibly chosen to wear t-shirts and shorts.

There is always one…Part four

Sport is a dominant theme at the moment, obviously, because of the impending start of the Olympic Games in China. 

 Nevertheless I offer no apologies for selecting this picture by Darren Staples of Manchester United’s Patrice Evra and Juventus’ Mauro Camoranesi clashing in mid-air during their pre-season friendly soccer match at Old Trafford in Manchester on August 6. As I looked through the file of Reuters pictures it jumped out at me, and has everything a good soccer picture should have. Of course it’s sharp, tightly composed, is shot at the height of the action and, because the players appear to be so far off the ground, it conveys a sense of drama. Also, a very simple point, but one that is often missed – the ball is in the picture!

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A picture is worth another thousand words…

A short while back I collated a few choice quotations and sayings on photography and the picture-taking process: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’.

I think various gems were omitted first-time round, so here are a few more:

“There are few professions where even when you are right at the top and a household name, you might still be standing on a draughty street corner with your feet getting wet and cold, waiting for something to happen.” (Philip Jones Griffiths)

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Above – A British Airways aircraft taxis past BA tail-fins at Heathrow Airport, west London. Photograph by Toby Melville

Getting your point across

With the Olympics now only a month away the search for scene-setting images to tempt the visual palate has begun in earnest. From the Beijing file Henry Lee gives us this to kick start the week - Wei Shengchu, 58, a supporter of traditional Chinese medicine, poses for photos in front of Beijing Railway Station with his head covered with acupuncture needles depicting 205 national flags and an Olympic torch, 7, 2008. Local media reported that Wei wanted to express his good wishes for the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games as well as to promote traditional Chinese medicine. 

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And it is all his own work, all 205 and something more substantial representing the Olympic flame, painstakingly inserted into his head to the obvious entertainment of passersby. 

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Even in this low resolution the Stars and Stripes, the Swiss, French, Canadian, Brazilian and a host of other national flags, are fairly easily spotted but not the Union Jack. 

First impressions of a photographer’s life in Hong Kong

 Six months ago, after eight years working in Spain I began a new stage in my life as a photographer based in Hong Kong. Here are some of my first impressions. 

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HK is a cosmopolitan and very modern place with enormous malls full of posh boutiques like Prada, Armani and Chanel; deluxe cars like Ferrari, Porsche, Rolls Royce and Jaguar riding the roads; free WIFI access in the streets… all in stark contrast to the homeless people with cardboard boxes begging for dollars. 

For the lucky ones life in this incredible city is easy. It is safe, has amazing buildings, beaches, exciting nightlife, nice restaurants and very low taxes.

Walking with survivors: Audio slideshow

Shanghai-based photographer Nir Elias tells of his hike with survivors of the Sichuan quake.