This coal miner was the first who I had come across in my roaming through the mining towns outside Datong. I was walking by the railroad tracks and saw this guy with his blackened face in between the tracks chopping grass. He had just finished a shift at the mine and stopped to cut weeds for his animals.
Almost every photograph I have of men in China is accompanied by a cigarette. Smoking here is second to breathing. Tobacco companies may bicker about laws in the United States hurting their sales, but at the rate these people smoke I’m sure nobody is losing money.
Archive for July, 2007
Look at the faces of each of these people in this coal mining village outside the city of Datong. They’ve taught me so much. Their curiosity is insatiable, and their smiles contagious.
Whenever I would stop to take a photograph in this part of China I would be surrounded by locals. It was hard to get work done, so I decided to just go with it and teach a little boy how to use a 4×5 camera, or explain the difference between film and digital, to someone who lived during the rule of Mao, with sign language and the “Rough Guide to Basic Mandarin.”
The funny thing about this photograph is I was setting up my camera to make an image of their bathroom. You should have heard the laughs when they looked through the back of my camera and realized what I was doing.
What I’ve been working on, and why I’m showing you this photograph, is something the photographer Ed Kashi said at OU while talking about improving his work for National Geographic. “Before I could become a good photographer I needed to first work on being a better person.” This is true for all of us. Before we can become better mechanics, better bakers, or better candlestick makers, we first need to become better people.
For me that meant realizing why I was taking photographs in this part of the world. What is it I want to say? It meant not getting angry and frustrated when I couldn’t make photographs because too many locals were in front of my camera staring at the lens in amazement. It meant accepting all those things I couldn’t change and respecting these people for those things they can’t.
In this part of the world I’m a representative of white people, of Americans, but most importantly of a human being. They will remember the white man with all the equipment. I hope they also remember my smile and my humility, so that next time someone like me comes through they treat him as well as they did me. When we travel we often forget the memories and impressions we leave behind.
The sign above this swaying wooden bridge reads literally “Young People’s Bridge for Convenience.” The bridge to this coal town was far from convenient, but did allow one to enter the mining village without having to cross one of the main bridges. I watched a woman in high heels walk her way across the wooden slats carrying a child in her arms.
I’ve returned recently from a trip to China’s main coal producing province, Shanxi. Just having done some work on coal in the United States, I thought I was prepared for what I would see in Datong, a city in Shanxi. I couldn’t have been more mistaken.
Entering Datong by train you can smell the unmistakable odor of burning coal. Its scent is nostalgic, in an earthen sense, as a campfire of burning pine. But burning coal is considerably more toxic, and the air in this region is thick with the smoke of this burning fuel. My nostrils by the end of the day were stuffed with black soot.
Coal mining, like everything being done in China, is on a scale like no other country in the world.
This week I’ll be posting a number of my images from Datong. Let me know if you have any questions. I’ll try my best to answer them.
Change comes harder for some than for others. This woman sat in the way of a excavator scooping land in front of her home. Other family members were screaming at the workers who seemed quiet and remorseful but who called in the police to resolve the issue. I sat and waited with her, her family, and a gathering crowd of workers. When the police arrived the attention turned to the foreigner with a camera. The police came to me and signaled something about an ID. I assumed they meant a press identification, so I played dumb and handed them my passport. After looking through all the pages twice, they handed back my passport and said, “no photos.” In a city where English is rarely spoken, I’ve heard the words “no photos” often.
From what I could gather, the woman and her family were irate about how the road construction had destroyed part of their home. The police were brought into the house to show the damage. On the wall of her home reads “Danger. Don’t Get Close!”
It’s been one of those days that feel like two. The temperature in Beijing today was close to 100F and the smog was freakish. Somehow I need to show this skyline in a way that does the pollution justice.
Regardless, I’m off to the countryside either tomorrow morning or the morning after. Plans haven’t been finalized. Internet will be a challenge and my blog non-existent, so don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for some time.
This was a photograph I made today. There’s little meaning to it, but the scene had a feeling I liked.