For some of us here on earth, the day begins and ends with physical work, and that brings a simple satisfaction of a hard-earned existence. Every working face I saw during my travels in Yunnan was always ready to break into an unapologizing smile; they possessed a contentment that can be forgotten to us in our boxed offices and multiple screens facing us every waking moment. They commune with nature, the wind, the elements, the land and that rewards them with a sense of belonging. They remember that they are earth dwellers and that simple truth is their fountain of wisdom.
Every new journey gives me a renewed set of reasons to do what I love to do. I love the art of photography. Time stops when I am in the streets of a new place, meeting people, looking through their eyes, watching them from a distance as they do what they do, and feeling a rising sense of excitement at being part of it all. In my recent trip to the region of Yunnan around Dali, I had a lot of time to reflect and to ponder what it is about photography that keeps me traveling, venturing and adventuring in search of human connection. It came to me one early morning just before sunrise, it is the soul of the place, that is what meets me at those special moments and gives me permission to capture its magic. You may give it any other name you wish, for me, it’s the soul.
Every stitch on her costume, every threaded bead she decorates herself with, every wrinkle on her face plays a part in telling her story, a life so different to ours, a world so alien to 21st century culture, an existence rising out of old traditions, she belongs to a tribe that allows strangers no access. All I could capture was the sense of her presence and the few photographs that I always hope could link to the state of standing in front of these amazing people.
It is such a common sight in Yunnan to see these strong women from the Yi ethnic minority with pipes lit in their mouths puffing at tobacco smoke around the streets, markets and village homes. The pipes are hand crafted and each woman holds on to hers for life proudly. When I asked about the place where we can buy one, I constantly received puzzled looks, “you don’t buy these, you get one made for you when you come of age”!
I am just back from a photographic adventure in Yunnan and Sichuan near Lijiang, China. I had the chance to visit the Yi, Mosuo and Naxi minorities in their traditional remote villages. I will be posting a series of portraits from the rich and strange life of the people of that region in the next few weeks.
The Yao, one of the 54 recognized ethnic minorities in China, number over 2 million and retain today many of their original traditions. Bright colors and silver adorn them and mountains are their preferred settling places. They form part of the colorful mosaic that China is.
No one is allowed to see her hair until she marries, each Yao woman can carry around her head up 1.9 meters of hair wrapped around like a crown. If a young man happens to catch sight of a girl’s hair, then he must invite her to live with his parents as a bride for 3 whole years. Another of our wonderfully colorful human traditions and another chapter in the mystery of hair.
With every passing year, with each journey into the far away places, I pray that these colorful people of the world are still there, being celebrated, appreciated and not become integrated into a characterless soup of grey humanity.