I was invited at very short notice to Songjiang Province on the outskirts of Shanghai by the China International Press Photographers Association (CHIPP). In a flurry of activity, last minute preparations were made to obtain my Chinese VISA. This included filling out several forms, a passport photo and a visit to the embassy in Melbourne – all on the day before I was due to fly out of Australia – this was literally arranging things on the “fly”. Special permission had to arranged by the embassy staff to secure a business VISA.
I had absolutely no idea what to expect after reaching Chinese soil as minimal information had been received. Upon arrival, I wasn't surprised by the official and courteous behaviour of Chinese officials in the airport at Shanghai (in comparison to some western airports); Shanghai is known as a cosmopolitan city with a true blend of eastern and western culture that has developed since the 1800’s when Britain, Holland and the Dutch East India Company reigned supreme.
Meeting four Chinese, who spoke little English, I was bundled into a dark coloured van, offered a bottle of drinking water and then driven at high speed (150 km/h) along a four- lane highway to my accommodation an hour or so away. The whole experience was rather surreal, but as I was to learn, this is standard operating procedure in a semi-communist country. After being on an aircraft for most of the day and evening, It was well after 1am before I finally found the time to sleep.
The next morning while dining on a tasty Chinese-style breakfast I learnt that the photographic award ceremony was to encompass the next two days before “my release” (their words) for two days free activity. After meeting the fellow photographers who had also been nominated for awards we were shuffled by van then a small electric tram to the Songjiang Art Museum where the ceremonies were to take place. We were provided an Chinese-English translator as we had to each deliver a short speech and partake in an question and answer session on the attributes of the photograph we have taken.
We met with a charming girl called Lilac who we were to learn was the local Songjiang Province Government official and Communist Party member. Lilac was responsible for ensuring that the Government’s agenda was achieved and for ensuring that we were well looked after – a job she did exceedingly well (thank you Lilac).
If you were looking for term that could be used to describe urban China it would be “bling”. Everything is BIG with much fan-fair, bright lights, colours and officialdom. When we each received our awards it was not a humble event. Instead, after the officials from the Government and CHIPP concluded some speeches and basic introductions we were invited, to the tune of “Rocky” to the stage where we were bathed in the strong light from portable spotlights.
Chinese girls in traditional costumes then proceeded to march along the edge of the stage to the rear of us carrying our large and heavy crystal awards. The Chinese then made speeches outlining to the eagerly waiting press the international significance and importance to China of such an event before giving us our awards with much solemn hand shaking and nods of approval. This was in tune to thousands of clicks from Canon and Nikon cameras, the flurry of overactive Chinese press photographers, and the steady whirl to two television cameras.
Following this was banquet-style lunch at a local high class restaurant. After lunch we were invited to view the award photographs which were framed and mounted for display in the Art Museum. Press and journalists were present to photograph the event and many of us were asked for personal autographs.
At the conclusion of this “rubbing shoulders” event we were graciously guided to the stage to sit in an open lounge under the glare of video lights to answer questions about our photography style to interested individuals in the audience. During this time all I remember is the glare of lights, the “pop” of flashes and the machine-gun rattle of shutters. All of us learnt very quickly not to play with your fingernails, scratch your nose or slurp the Chinese green tea that was in large supply; an inappropriate move was instantly recorded by a flurry of photographic activity.
This photographic activity was continued the following day when we were taken an a photographic excursion to several locally important landmarks. A large bus followed our small vehicle and whenever we went we were accompanied by 50 plus photographic journalists – all committed to photographing each of us from every angle several times. At one stage I saw something interesting at the Chinese garden we visited. No sooner had I lifted my camera and focussed that I realized there were some 10 cameras pointing in my direction to record the momentous event!
The Chinese press were delighted when we performed for the camera or photographed a local person. We all laughed when at one stage a local lady and her small dog was caught in the limelight! What must have been 50 cameras were pointed at this cute dog in a mass of photo journalism as the dog’s movement was captured in digital celluloid. I have no idea what the dog’s owner thought!
A Word About The Images
The above images were shot "on the fly" and very quickly. As I was an award recipient it wasn't really appropiate that I stopped to take "decent" photographs. The western person in the fourth & fifth photograph from the top is Danniel Berehaluk from Getty Images who was the highest award receiver.
In the second image form the top you can just make out the top of the large crystal trophy that each of us was awarded along with a smaller leather bound certifcate. The trophy was large with a height of 43 cm (17 inches) and quite heavy at 3.3 KG (7.3 lbs). I'm still smiling at the thought of Danniel, who was awarded 5 tropies, carrying them to the international flight as hand luggage!
A Word of Thanks
I'd like to say "thank you" to Thomson Reuters UK and the CHIPP organisation who made it possible to visit China.
China Continued, but Indonesia Underwater On-Hold
I will post a few threads regarding my experiences in China over the next couple of weeks. My recent Indonesian trip, from which I returned immediately before departing for China, will have to wait a short while as I catch up. This trip was very good and I photographed several species of frogfish, schooling hammerhead sharks and many species of nudibranch.