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Chinese photographer ranks at top of World Press Photo Contest

2018/4/25 11:30:37   source:Global Times

Photography is probably one of the best mediums to capture small slices of life. To commemorate the best of photography, each year the World Press Photo Foundation, an independent non-profit organization based in Amsterdam, holds its World Press Photo Contest. This year, a Chinese photographer grabbed attention with a photo of a simple life scene taken in North China's Shanxi Province, which was awarded third prize in the contest's People category.

First held in 1957, the World Press Photo Contest is in its 61st year.

Love affair with photography

"Photography isn't my main job, it is just a hobby of mine," Li Huaifeng, the photographer of the award-winning Earth Kiln, told the Global Times during a phone interview.

The sudden fame that has come with winning the award hasn't gone to his head, "I am in Belgium for work," when asked to talk about his story behind the photo, Li did not stop his usual schedule.

A former tobacco company employee from North China's Shandong Province, Li said he started his love affair with photography in 2011, when he came across a photo of The Terror of War. Taken during the Vietnam War, the photo shows a naked girl running in fear along a road with other children from a napalm bombing as armed soldiers stand in the background. Shot by Ut Cong Huynh, a famous American-Vietnamese photographer, this picture was seen as the masterpiece of the period and awarded in the 1973 World Press Photo of the Year.

"From what I know, this well-known picture not only helped shorten the war, but also changed the lives of both that little girl and the photographer," Li told the Global Times.

"That was the first time I realize that a photo can actually change people's fates; a realization that was the key factor I chose to start being a photographer."

Li bought his first camera that year.

"I traveled to many places to take photos, including Northwest China's Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, Gansu Province, Shaanxi Province and Southwest China's Sichuan Province as well. In total I traveled more than 5,600 kilometers," Li said, his voice full of pride.

Gradually realizing that his favorite subjects were life scenes of rural China and traditional acrobatics, Li began to hone his craft even further.

"The objects I choose to shoot have origins that can be traced back to a long time ago. Such as stone mills, which are still used in some remote part of the countryside," he explained. The home depicted in his photo Earth Kiln also has a long history. These traditional stone homes have been a figure of Northwest China for more than 4,000 years. As for Chinese acrobatics, Li noted that this is an art form that appears in historical documents dated more than 2,000 years ago.

Most importantly, Li said that he enjoys taking photos of these subjects because they tell stories that represent China.

"If I can take these stories and incorporate them into my creations, I know I am going to get an excellent photo," Li explained.

Recording reality

According to Li, his interest in traditional culture and the lives of rural Chinese is due to his colorful life experience.

"I've pursued numerous jobs to make a living," he said, mentioning how his experiences have provided him material for his artistic creations.

One of these creations is Earth Kiln.

"I was not trying to beautify or smear the countryside, I was just recording a real life scene in China," Li explained.

"A lot of these earth kilns in North China's Hebei and Shanxi provinces and Northwest China's Shaanxi Province are abandoned. Many of these cities are in the process of urbanization, which is why I wanted to record the most primitive living conditions of people in these areas."

According to Li, beauty is not his goal when taking pictures. Rather he wants to act as a recorder that can help preserve the memories of this unnoticed corner of the world.

"Their living conditions are hard, but they have happy lives," Li explained, while talking about Earth Kiln.

"They watch TV programs while cooking together, you can feel the warmth and peaceful atmosphere in the picture."

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