Photographers' Blog

Different congress, different picture

Beijing, China

By Kim Kyung-hoon

In China, where the Constitution says “All power in the People’s Republic of China belongs to the People”, the National People’s Congress (NPC) is one of the most important political events in the country.

Over 2,000 various delegates including political leaders, military generals, CEOs, celebrities and even Tibetan monks gathered in the Great Hall of the People to represent their districts and discuss how to shape the future of 1.35 billion Chinese people. In theory, the NPC is the great lawmaking power in China and plays a similar role to the parliaments of its neighboring countries, Japan and South Korea, where I have worked as a Reuters photographer for the last 11 years.

Instead what I saw at this year’s two-week-long NPC in China was very different from what I witnessed in the neighboring countries, even though these three North Asian countries have been closely connected geographically, historically, economically and culturally for thousands of years.

In South Korea and Japan, demonstrators speak out with flashy banners and loudspeakers around the Parliament building. What you will encounter around the NPC is not people speaking out but instead the watchful eyes of hundreds of security officers and surveillance cameras gazing upon you on full alert.

Even though this congress is held for the people, access by ordinary people to the fortress-like venue is strictly controlled. Under heightened security carried out by paramilitary police, SWAT teams, plain-clothed police and surveillance cameras, it is clearly out of the question to hold even a small-sized rally. Inside the venue is no different from the outside. Countless security officers in the same black suits and short hairstyle stand guard like motionless robots and are seen throughout the hall.

Choreographing our China congress coverage

Beijing, China

By Petar Kujundzic

Is there anyone against? – “Meiyou” (There is no one)

The last time I covered an important Communist Party congress was in my own country almost 23 years ago. I was the only photographer for Reuters there, shooting black and white and sending a few pictures to the wire using a drum analog transmitter. The last congress of the Yugoslav Communist Party, which ruled the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia from 1945 until 1991, ended with a split within the League of Communists and ushered in years of violence and civil conflict… but that is a totally different story.

Last week’s 18th Chinese Communist Party Congress, by contrast, was a highly choreographed affair — no drama. In fact, during the preparation, the question arose: How do you cover one of the world’s top stories when it’s considered visually “boring.” At the same time, how do you deal with the difficulties of restricted access, especially if you are a foreign journalist in China?

On the other hand, the congress represents a rare opportunity to cover a once-in-a-decade leadership swap in one of the world’s superpowers, just a week after the dramatic and colorful presidential election in the United States. This time, as Chief Photographer in China, it was my turn to organize the coverage.

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.

GALLERY: WHERE MAO LIVES ON

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.

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?

SLIDESHOW: COMMUNIST BUNKER BAR

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.

Vacation in North Korea?

If you are planning to take an exotic vacation, maybe Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is your place.

A week ago I joined a group of foreign journalists and a delegation of Chinese tourism agents on a trip highlighted by a cruise that left the port area of North Korea’s Rason City and headed south to the country’s famous Mont Kumgang resort. To get to the ship, we took a bus from China to a border crossing in Hunchun. Before we arrived at customs, our Chinese guides collected our mobile phones. North Korean authorities don’t allow foreigners to carry any type of mobile communications.

When we crossed a bridge over the river Tumen Jiang, which marks the border between China and North Korea, we passed from a modern highway to an unpaved country road.

Quiet moment of glory

By Peter Andrews

I woke up on the morning of August 19, 1991 after staying at my friends’ apartment in Warsaw. I was on my way back from holidays in Canada and had just sold my car before departing to the Soviet Union to start my new job at Reuters in Moscow. Previously, I worked for the Associated Press in the then-Soviet Republics of Lithuania and Georgia as well as in Moscow itself where Reuters’ former Chief Picture Editor Gary Kemper and Moscow Chief Photographer Frederique Lengaigne recruited me for Reuters.

A neighbor stopped me on the staircase saying: “Do you know what happened in Moscow?”. There was a military coup and the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was overthrown by Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev. It seemed impossible to me, I had just left Moscow two months earlier. Nevertheless, I immediately arranged the first available plane ticket to Moscow. The plane was almost empty and the only people on board were my colleagues from Poland with whom I had spent the previous year working with in Vilnius. The atmosphere on the plane was tense, but full of excitement. The change was happening in front of our eyes, but not the way we were expecting.

Upon landing at the Shermetyevo airport in Moscow I went straight to the Reuters office which was then on the Sadovaya Samotechnaya Ulitsa part of the Sadovoye Koltso in the center of Moscow. We exchanged quick greetings and I was on my way to the White House, a building which then housed the country’s parliament, where everything was happening. The Reuters picture crew already working on site included Sean Ramsey, Michael Samojeden, Genady Galperyn, Grigory Dukor, and Viktor Korotayev.

The man behind Mao’s portrait

I was honored and excited when I first heard that I would be joining the TV team for a story which Reuters had been chasing for 2 years – photographing the one and only painter at present who draws the giant portrait of Chinese late chairman Mao Zedong hanging at Tiananmen Square.

Ge Xiaoguang, 58, started learning large-scale portrait painting from Wang Guodong in 1971, and since Wang retired in 1977, Ge has been the author of Mao’s portraits at Tiananmen Square.

We arrived at the entrance of Ge’s studio before 9:00 a.m., a 10-meter-high red building located between the Tiananmen Gate and the Forbidden City. Millions of tourists pass by every day, but most of them would never find out what has been going on in this building.