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.
Attempting documentary photography and not feeling compassionate love for people would be pointless as far as I am concerned.
I love feeling the humanity in other people’s eyes, to guess at what they are feeling, to lock eyes with them even for a brief moment, to be part of their world for the time I that I am there and later again and again through their photographs.
With each visit to Yunnan, my connections are deepened and I feel compelled to return. Simplicity is a gem in our complex world of today, a fountain of peace to a busy and crowded mind.
In my journeys into the remote villages of China’s Yunnan province, I was moved by the closeness of the older generation with the children of the tribe. Physical proximity seemed to be an easement factor relied upon in raising the children and arming them with needed confidence as they developed. Parents and grandparents went about their busy workdays with toddlers literally tied to their bodies in colorful embroidered sacks.
Something to consider in our modern world where gadgets are slowly taking the place of our warm human hugs.
The province of Yunnan, stretching over 394,000 square kilometers in the far southwest of the Republic of China, is rich in color, tradition and history. More than 30% of its population of 45 million is made up of over 25 ethnic minorities like the Yi, Bai, Hani, Zhuang, Miao, Mozuo and Dai people. Most of the ethnic minorities live in compact communities with rich customs and traditions that live on despite the recent economic change that takes over the Chinese mainland.
Each time I visited the region for a new photographic adventure I was drawn to capturing the very dominant smoking traditions amongst the different minorities. From he pipes that are passed on through generations, hand crafted with care and art to the large bamboo pipes, to modern day cigarettes, for good or bad, smoking lives on in Yunnan as a tribal tradition.
Going back through images from a past trip to Yunnan’s Honghe area. I am planning a return visit to the region very soon. This is the first of a series on images of smoking inside the traditional life of the ethnic minorities residing in Yunnan.
Have you ever noticed how we walk sometimes in the cities with small clouds hanging around our heads, that the shine of our smiles has a very hard time breaking through? We move as though we are troubled by so many invisible phantoms that prevent us from responding humanly to others that pass us by. But when we meet simple people in simple places, there is just us, them and their reaction. Most often it is a big generous smile that glows and its warmth is able to reach us and force a mutual reaction from our faces. And it does feel so good to exchange these smiles with the people of the world where no words are necessary.
We may all be human, but our lots are not the same and nor are our destinies. The more people I meet, the further I travel, I realize that life does not deal us all the same cards. Isn’t humanity knowing this and having compassion for those who have less?
On the way to Dayangjie, the central home of the Yiche people, a branch of the Hani ethnic minority that settled in Yunnan about 1000 years ago, we met this child and grandparent. The Yiche people wear conical hats in black and in white and are known to have some of the stranger customs among the Hani people. The ‘lihhahha’ or marriages in their language of the Yiche people are arranged by their parents when they are very young, when the bride-price is paid. After the marriage the husband and wife don’t live together, but with their own parents. The wife, however, must visit her husband every twelve days until giving birth. During this period of lihhahha the wife has the freedom to have sexual intercourse with any man she likes. This custom proves that there is so much more to learn about the people of the world and the way their lives are arranged and why. The more I see of this world, the less room I have for pre-judgment and the wider my mind must be opened.