I have a weakness for travelling and documenting the world through my photography. My trips often start with a simple email from a friend asking if I am interested in getting on a plane and going somewhere new and unique to photograph. In the case of my recent photography trip to China, however, there was no email from a friend. This journey started with a single image from a place I had never heard of, XiaPu. That single image is what inspired me to make a trip halfway around the world.
This was to be my second visit to photograph in China. In 2012, I travelled to Guilin, an area known for the beautiful Karst mountains, Li River, and Longji rice terraces. However, due to poor weather conditions, I had never been completely happy with my images. So, I decided to try China again, resulting in a 17-day trip to both Guilin and XiaPu. This trip to China was soon to become my most challenging and photographically rewarding to date.
While in Guilin, I was on my own with a local guide and followed the same routine every day. Each morning, I woke up around 4:00am and got myself to a landscape location for sunrise. I say “landscape”, but many of these outdoor scenes also included people. This usually meant climbing a hill or taking a boat in the dark to the location I wanted to photograph before spending the next 3 hours there capturing the changing light conditions. After returning to my home base and having breakfast, I would take a short break and focus on portraits in the afternoon. Then I would head to a sunset location for another chance at a landscape image, followed by heading back to the hotel and backing up my images. I would get about four hours of sleep before repeating the schedule the next day. After Guilin, I traveled to XiaPu to photograph abstract and painterly coastal scenes with a group of photographers I knew from a previous trip to Indonesia. All in all, I averaged 4 hours of sleep for the full 17 days and came home completely exhausted.
There were many highlights of the trip, but my interactions with the Chinese people were the most meaningful memorable experiences. The rural villages of China presented great opportunities to capture portraits of character-filled people with interesting backgrounds. To find my subjects, my guide often walked right into homes, calling out to alert the homeowners we were there. This approach would not have worked well in the United States and felt uncomfortable at first, but quickly realized this was perfectly normal in China. Another highlight for me was meeting the Chinese photographers. I met many, and for those that spoke English, they were interested in comparing photography gear and just having a short conversation with a photographer from another part of the world. I am looking forward to returning to China showing people how beautiful and friendly the villages, scenery and people are when I lead future photo tours with my friend Rick Sammon.
See Koskela’s dramatic photos from the Venice Carnival on Resource Travel.