This image is part of a series entitled “China Road”.
In 1994 I spent 5 weeks travelling across southern China. And yes, only then did I fully realise the enormity and full extent of this nation – China is big. While I had no specific brief, there were several things I wanted to do on this, my first trip to China. A case of first travelling across the south and then later, to do another trip to the northern part of the country.
The idea and purpose of this particular trip was to travel in a loop starting in Hong Kong and then, finishing there. The route I had planned was to take me up the Pearl River to Wuzhou and then, across to Yangshou, up to Guizhou then on to Chongqing, down the Yangtze River, up to Luoyang, across to Nanjing, down to Shanghai and back to Hong Kong and yes, that took all of 5 weeks. Travel was consistent and relentless and, for the most part, is was by rail – this with the exception of the boat trip down the Yangtze and that took all of 3 days.
This image was taken while stopping over in Yangshou, a small down located not too far from the city of Guilin. The town is situated along side the Li Jiang (loosely translated as this Li River) and surrounded by this spectacular landscape made up of karst mountains – hundreds of spiky towers of limestone rising up hundreds of meters off the valley floor.
On this particular day I had hired a bicycle from a vendor in town and decided to take a ride along the back roads and through the surrounding rural districts. On my return I had stopped near a hamlet to take pictures of the surrounding landscape. I parked the bicycle using its bike stand at the edge of the dirt road. In front of me was this spectacular view of a vast expanse of rice paddies, this as far as the eye could see and, in all of this and scattered intermittently across the landscape, these towering sentinels of rock. On the one side of the road and behind me there were people, mainly women, planting rice in a short of stretch of paddy fields that stopped just short of a towering mountain.
I could hear people talking and chatting in the house nearby. Out of the background noise came this cheery, young voiced “Hello, how are you”? I looked around and saw this girl standing at the fence near the road. Behind her stood some other children. While curious, it seemed as though they were trying to hide – much as some chicks take to hiding under the wings of a mother hen and yet curious to see what is going on around them, peep from underneath the protection of her wings.
I called back in what was then my really rudimentary Mandarin. The elder girl smiled and the young children squirmed and giggled. Out from this group came a chorused, “Hello, how are you”? “I am fine” I countered and called back, “How are you”?
There was silence and then, some more giggles together with shoving and jostling within the group. “So, how are you today”? I encouraged. There was some more jostling and shoving as the group turned in on themselves and whispered amongst each other. “How are you”? another girl in the grouped echoed back. “I’m good”, I replied. Then, to my surprise, one of the girl’s asked, “What are you doing”? I replied I was taking pictures. This seemed to be a cue of some kind and, all of a sudden, this little group lost it’s shyness and headed over to where I was standing.
They wanted to look at my camera. I was using a Canon F-1 at the time. I wasn’t sure if they knew what this was let alone knowing how use it. The elder boy took hold of the camera and in the next moment all the children formed a group and started urging him on to take a picture. He soon got the hang of all the actions, focusing the lens, pushing the shutter and cocking the film advance. In the process he took several images.
The group soon got bored with posing for their aspiring photographer. He looked at me, smiled and handed back the camera. Before the group broke up, I motioned the boy to go and join the group and hence this image.
While I wasn’t into shepherding sheep into a pen so to speak, I moved around this group, lowered myself to take in a lower eye view and that was about it. All of a moment in the late afternoon and hence this image. Of this particular moment, this image meant more to me than any of the images I had taken of the landscape and any of the other scenes I had taken along that road earlier on in the afternoon. Here I was with people and in the moment. This image says everything of that moment.
This article was originally written and published on January, 2011 on a predecessor to this website and uploaded here on 12 June, 2018.
TECHNICAL NOTES: The camera used in the making of this image was a Canon F-1 and a Canon 28 2.8 FD lens. The film used was likely to have been Ilford HP5 and developed in Ilford’s Ilfotec.