Men puffing out tobacco smoke has become such a common daily sight for us living in China, people smoke in the rain, on bikes, while working, in classrooms, and sometimes even while eating! Yunnan was no different. The ladies smoked their pipes leisurely while the men smoked cigarettes and water pipes. The tobacco fields can be seen spread out for miles around the valleys and mountainous regions of Yunnan and the smoking traditions thrives.
This man was sitting in a small one room restaurant in a marketplace and he enjoyed his tobacco while I photographed him feeling almost proud and theatrically demonstrating his skill at exhaling the clouds above his head.
displaced destinies (a child at a migrant school in Shanghai)
Today two good friends and I went for an adventure in a remote Shanghai neighborhood where mostly migrant workers from the provinces live and where their children go to special schools. These are the workers responsible for lifting Shanghai from the ground up to soaring levels with its new high rises and luxury hotels that mushroom at an impressive speed around the jewel of China. The residences are extremely modest and the children struggle to learn as best they can under their current circumstances. On this day the teacher said that they would be celebrating children’s day (normally on June 2nd in China) and strangely enough they pointed out a few of the girls who they consider ‘beautiful’ and explained why they were dressed in party clothes and not the usual school uniform. The declaration of their beauty was done openly in front of all the other students, a concept I found incredibly alien and difficult to understand. “She is the most beautiful girl in the class” the teacher announced loudly, ” and this is why she will be presented on stage today”.
Eighty five and exploding with stamina~ the bund~ Shanghai
Every once in a while I meet an incredible human, and they remind me that aging is a natural process that only claims our physical body. The spirit is always effervescent if we allow it to be, the soul is only more experienced and our mind can only grow richer if we feed it in the right way. This lady I met this morning, early at sunrise was giggling while doing her morning exercise and very proudly telling my friends and I that she is 85 years old and still feels young and full of energy. She was infectious in her enthusiasm and bright spirit, light as a feather and innocent as a small child. She renewed my hope in life and its beauty and easily added herself to my list of unforgettable people.
This is what I felt the eyes of this little boy telling me in an old Shanghai alley. He created a shield for himself just in case, hiding behind it half playfully and half in fear of the strange and the unfamiliar. I was with a photographer friend there and we both could feel when it was the right time to stop pushing the limits of innocent trust. It was one of those precious moments that street photography grants you, rare, human, and unforgettable.
I was walking in an old street in Shanghai with my camera taking in all the sights, smells and noises of the crowded narrow lanes when an unusual sight drew me in. I looked inside a smoky large room packed with rickety tables, chairs, tea pots, and men in hats, so many men in hats. I walked in and after I stopped being looked at as the stranger in the village, I began to be approached by the curious of the gathered men. Each wanted to tell me stories, because this is what we humans do, we carry our his-story with us, in our minds, our hearts, etched on our faces and we long to tell them and to pass them on before we leave, so that parts of us can stay behind and make an indelible mark. I listened and tried my best to comprehend, but the best story this man can tell is written all over his face and I present it to you here in this frozen moment…
I have often tried to describe in so many different ways why I love street photography so much above any other style, but then come moments to me in the streets that redefine it all for me, the whole love affair. Today, I received this incredible gift, a window opened, a moment magically presented itself and I was showered with an overwhelming emotion at the magic of it all. A shabby alley in a condemned neighborhood of Shanghai, perhaps a month away from certain demolition, a little girl with an angelic face, an old worn out leather sofa juxtaposed on the side of the alley in a most unusual place, an old bike nearby and her face searching mine making time stop, and me with a heart beating very fast raising my camera to try and capture magic through the lens and knowing it will be an image I would treasure for the rest of my life.
With the last New York post from this month, I am realizing how much of it is still in me. It has been one of the most personal months in my blog so far, so I will end it with a photo from then, from the time I was 21 and celebrating every single second I had in the city that never sleeps. We explored New York with so much openness, with inspiration, with joy, with boundless energy and that does something to you. I love photography because it captures moments that take you back, to feel, to remember to relive.