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.

Fishing with film

By Carlos Barria

In the “old” days, back before digital photography, photographers used to lug around tons of extra luggage, portable dark rooms, and set up shop in their hotel bathrooms. Or they would send their film — by motorcycle, car or even plane — to somebody else in a hotel or office close by to develop it, scan it and file. Or they might have to scramble and look for a lab in the middle of a crisis, in a foreign country. I don’t think my colleague Joe Skipper speaks Spanish, but I know that when he covered a showdown at Colombia’s Justice Ministry in the 80s, he learned how to say, “Mas amarillo!,” “More yellow!

North America chief photographer Gary Hershorn arrives to the Vancouver international airport with all his photo lab luggage. REUTERS/Stringer

I began my career as a photographer at the beginning of the digital era, working at La Nacion in Argentina. There, in 2000, I had a front row seat to the transition. I shot film myself, but for a very short period.

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