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A Photographer’s China

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New Emissary

A Photographer’s China

Embracing China isn’t just about shooting from behind a camera lens. Connecting with its people is key.

I recently heard from photographer Komail Naqvi (whose touching images from after the Pakistan flood we featured in the photo essay, 'A Tale of Devastation'). I was happy to hear that one of his photos has just been published in the latest collection of photos on one of my favorite forums for the world’s best photography, The Big Picture.

Komail has also lately been to China and has taken some striking photos while there, which I’ll feature more of in the near future. In the meantime, he had some unique experiences of his trip to the country, and what it was like to photograph some of its major cities, to share:

What were some of the memorable impressions you had during your first trip to China?

Landing in Shanghai for my first-ever visit to China, I had absolutely no idea what to expect. However, the one thing I’d decided was that I was going to embrace the culture. For that, language was still a major barrier and an initial struggle for me. However, I soon realized the local people encouraged my communication in the little Mandarin I’d picked up, and joyfully helped me correct my mistakes. Sharing laughs on some of the not-so-dismissible mistakes I made—well this kind of experience truly encapsulated a start to a binding relationship between me and the city.

So what I didn’t expect was the extent to which China would end up embracing me!

Also, instead of walking the streets of Shanghai and Hangzho as a tourist, I ended up being able to feel like a part of the thriving culture that I was surrounded by. To be honest, it all left me overwhelmed at first. But soon, I decided to figure out the extensive, and at times confusing, transportation network. This unlocked many doors, as it enabled me to travel through the cities on my own, exploring them without any sense of direction, time or space. Soon I slipped my camera out of my bag, and then began one of the most exhilarating photography experiences I have ever had.

So what was it like to photograph China—how did it stand out compared to places you’ve shot before?

China provided me with a unique opportunity, to not only photograph some of the best visuals the cities had to offer, but also helped me build and develop my skills as a photographer. The bustling streets near Nanjing Road, the electrifying atmosphere at The Bund, the breathtaking birds-eye view from the World Financial Center, the historic Shanghai Expo 2010, the mesmeric sights at Yuan Garden and the serene locations in Hangzho, are just a few visuals to name that have forever forged themselves in my memories and heart.

I now feel indebted to that country, its cities and its people for their warm hospitality and the unforgettable adventures I had, and I hope to visit it again soon in the near future.

A Photographer's China

Do you feel you were in some way able to connect more to the country as a photographer than as a 'common' tourist may?

Well, yes. Instead of trying to capture scenes merely through a lens, I made it a point to engage with my subjects and get a tangible feel as to what they meant. So for example, in Hangzho during one of my photography sessions near the lake, I left the work for a while and dived right into the water for a swim with a group of friends. Looking back now at the photographs I took then, I can recall a specific sense of connection to that moment, something I wouldn’t have had if I’d decided to simply ‘snap’ a picture and move on.

Another time, on one particular night, I remember I was walking along The Bund admiring the reflecting bright lights in the river beside me. I ran into a local photographer there and with the help of some of the Mandarin I’d picked over the past few weeks, we engaged in a spontaneous conversation, exchanging our thoughts and opinions about the city. These kinds of particular moments made me feel really connected, and allowed me to engage also through my photography with the enriched culture and accelerating lifestyles in China.

A Photographer's China

(All images by Komail Naqvi).

Just a note to readers that I will be taking a break over the next two weeks while I travel to Indonesia and Thailand. But please keep an eye out, as The New Emissary will still be updated a few times with posts from some exciting arts and culture guest writers during this period.