-We All Combine To Create One-
Done by me
The not so typical, culturally infused Burqa.
As we viewed the 2011 All Roads Photography winners at the National Geographic, there was one photographer in particular that caught my eye. His name is Kuang Huimin and he hails from the People’s Republic of China. Not only did he manage to portray raw emotions in his pieces but he was also able to communicate on a very intimate level with the most casual observer. He told the story of the Old Miao Village and the Miao people. In his photo essay, he managed to take us on a trail exploring their roots, not just in terms of location but also through their traditions and daily routines.
Faces transfixed with horror, the child and the dog seem to be gating the doors to the historic town, both reflecting a fear of what’s to come. Huimin starts his story-telling by portraying the entry way to the lives of the Miao Villagers, symbolized by the woman standing on the mountain perched between two bundles of wood. Although the image is black and white, the photographer managed to play with the lighting in order to emphasize the focal points, the woman, the gate and the dog. The sharp defined edges of the cliff and the unfocused faded background makes the viewer wonder what lies below. This photo leaves the viewer with many unanswered questions as to what it is that the subjects have seen up ahead to instill such an expression of fear and curiosity. It incorporates an incredible feeling of humanity as the woman instinctively reaches out for her dog to calm him whilst being equally protective of her wood that she may have spent the entire morning collecting. Catching that extraordinary moment, one feels immediately drawn into the scene as it depicts a peculiar vulnerability.
Enticing us to learn more about the Miao Village, he portrays the background of the people by capturing their ancient surroundings. It’s almost as if they are looking on to their own destiny as the photo is taken from behind them and we see their backs inspecting their village. The haphazard nature of the village and the manner in which it seems to be at one with nature tells us a lot about its people and their respect for their environment. Taken in ambient light, the composition of the piece, with the dark houses contrasting the sheer sky, the combination of soft and hard textures in the image and the invisible gate created by lines and points surrounding the community makes the onlooker experience a sense of spontaneity and fascination towards this secret place. The buildings stretch until almost the far end of the picture, but one then gets a sense of how the whole village is encompassed by nature as the edge is bordered by forest. This is a very clever way of contextualizing the village by making it appear more prominent set against its hazy surroundings.
Throughout Huimin’s photographs a cycle of similar elements are quite obvious. He continues with the idea of black and white, portrays raw emotions and stimulates the viewer’s eye by playing around with the movements in the pieces. Another noticeable element is variety. Take his piece, Bamboo Flute Playing, this work incorporates a scene where each individual sports a different facial expression. This introduces an element of individualism in the characters even though they’re all playing along with their traditions. Another dimension is the movement and composition of the people. It somehow allows you to feel and hear the music that they are playing in a non-literal way. There is something ancient and magical about this picture that allows your imagination to run away with you. It feels like it has been taken in an entirely different time and that even though everyone is playing the same type of flute, they are all lending it their own spirit.
Escalating Modern Influences is a truly remarkable photo because it captures this little Miao boy facing the camera set against the backdrop of a group of adults all facing away. Even though they are all dressed in traditional clothing, this little boy is going against the grain with his pose. It’s almost as if there is a slight look of sadness and uncertainty in his eyes. He is turning his back on tradition in an increasingly modernized environment where rejecting poverty also means going against tradition.
He then continues his journey by portraying other daily routines of the locals. Several elements and principles of photography are clearly displayed in his pieces. In all his images there is an equal balance within the composition. There are no empty or negative spaces and the utilization of space is highly evident. Women Working and Enclave show the encroachment of the modern world on this idyllic village. There is something entirely repulsive about the mechanical digger destroying the natural environment of the Miao and tragic about how the people seem helpless just watching as their village is being torn up. It symbolizes how powerless the villagers are in the face of change.
Kuang Huimin is a truly remarkable artist. I found that after viewing the detail, emotion and harmony that he manages to capture in his compositions that I too was left inspired to tell stories in the style that he does. His ability to capture your interest and pique your curiosity about places you have never heard of is what distinguishes him. He shows how amazing it is when people retain their culture and heritage and how sad it is when they lose it. I would really like to do something similar about the Bedouins of Saudi Arabia and how their traditions too are being lost because of the great push for modernity. Part of his success is that he’s from that culture and so his deep understanding of his people is what shines through and I feel inspired to tell the story of my own people who lived in mud huts only 40 or 50 years ago and they have now created huge modern cities in the desert that look like London or New York.
Exploring the wonders of the Middle East, capturing the emotions of a mother giving birth in Africa, trailing behind the Pakistani Taliban fighters, American photojournalist Lynsey Addario has experienced almost everything. Unveiling the reality that exists behind unknown countries, Addario captures the true essence and emotions of their innermost stories through a simple photographic image
Having graduated with a degree in International Relations, Addario felt the need to challenge the status quo and decided that the best way of educating fellow Americans about a world that they had little knowledge of, and exposure to, was by depicting it through the art of photography. Her career began in earnest in the mid 1990’s and she has gone on to regularly working with some of the most prestigious publications in the world, such as National Geographic, Time and The New York Times. Having been abducted in Afghanistan and kidnapped in Libya, Addario has a passion for her work that few others in her profession possess and does not shy away from danger.
Experiencing different regions of the world that many may have never even heard of, her work predominantly focuses on human rights’ issues, conflicts and more specifically, the role of women in different societies.
The elements of spontaneity and wonder are what attract me to Addario’s photography. In her piece “Peshawar Pakistan”, the woman covered from head to toe makes you wonder what’s hiding underneath, captivating the interest of the viewer. The black and white color choice emphasizes the fear and oppression surrounding her. As you may observe, there are two women in the piece and a man in the background. However, my eye is immediately drawn to the center woman, who forms the focal point of the shot. The movement around her blocks out everybody else, focusing all the attention on her. The fine detail of the woman’s ensemble, the texture and lines throughout the delicate fabric show her to be an individual, rather than the same as everyone else who chooses to cover up as the viewer of the work would initially assume. The texture created by the vertical pleats that are clearly defined from her head to her ankles, fold over themselves in a circular form as they reach the bottom. This serves to accentuate the movement surrounding her and creates an aura of a dreamlike and hazy state reminiscent of whirling dervishes from an era that does not belong in the modern context.
Her decision of going to an unknown land as a foreigner to trail behind the misogynistic regime of the Taliban inspires me to explore the area that surrounds me. Although it’s not as dangerous as Afghanistan, it’s still unfamiliar and strange. This specific piece inspired me to go out and explore.
Despite the blurred composition, the depth and emotion within the piece is unmistakable particularly highlighted by the variation of the patterns within the image which has relative clarity. Indeed, patterns are a very integral part of African art and culture and give the photograph a strong sense of context. There is a collection of patterns made up of lines with both organic and geometric shapes. The natural photo, obviously taken in direct sunlight (Addario only uses natural light in all her compositions), incorporates a strong blend of warm and cool colors that complement the state of worry, fear and sadness in the child’s eyes. Leaving aside the chaotic motion in the background, just by looking at the people captured you can feel the emotions they’re feeling, the state they’re in and the story they have to tell. However, I wish the picture was a bit more defined, that way we could tell what they were truly feeling rather than just catching a glimpse. Patterns or art in general, makes up the majority of African culture. Taking a closer look at the image, there is a collection of patterns made up of lines and by the looks of it a combination of organic and geometric shapes. The embellished pouch that the boy is carried in, contrasts severely with the attire of the child embodying a unique contradiction between what appears to be and what is. The bag is bright, vibrant and multicolored scattered with bold black lined patterns. The boy, however, in direct contrast, is dressed in simple dark plain clothes, which shows the paradox in this piece. The perspective of the boy that Addario manages to capture shadows the rest of the elements and principles of design in this piece.
The bright and vibrant colors of this piece would lead you to assume that the subjects are in the midst of a celebration filled with happiness and joy. Yet this piece contradicts the literal meaning. Taken in Darfur, “Food Distribution” symbolizes the sovereignty in the lives of these Sudanese civilians. The difficult to achieve balance within the placement of the people, the bright light shining over them and the exquisite detail the piece embodies makes the viewers question their first impression of the photograph. This is a typical example of how Addario consistently manages to challenge the status quo and forces viewers to reassess their initial assumptions.
The variety of patterns and textures in this piece is exquisite. Looking at the image, the first element the observer would notice would be the bright colors while ignoring the fine detail. Focusing on the woman sitting on the ground, wearing the turquoise cover up with the hint of red peaking through her veil provides the observer with a focal point. The subtle patterns in her garment urge the viewer to seek more detail. Moving around her, you cannot help but notice the other patterns and textures in the attire of the other women. The variation of striped blue, yellow and green fabric to her right, the floral print of the woman in a peach head cover in the back, and the leaf pattern print of the woman’s outfit at the far left of the piece are just some of the patterns that entice the viewer to stop and explore what this image has to offer.