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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

China South

Enticing new opportunities for the cultural photographer are becoming more accessible in these less traveled regions of abundant diversity

china southThis Article Features Photo Zoom
Getting There
Logical gateways are Hong Kong or Shanghai
Airline service frequently hubs through Kunming (Yunnan) and Guiyang (Guizhou)
Tour operators are essential, particularly in Guizhou where there's little tourism infrastructure; Asian Pacific Adventures arranged our photo adventure, (800) 825-1680, (818) 881-2745, www.asianpacificadventures.com.
The best months to see minority festivals are January and February, but at that time of year, the rice terraces are brown; May-June and August-November are popular months that avoid the monsoons of summer

Tourism infrastructure spans the spectrum. The region of Yunnan represented by Dali and Lijiang rather generally is considered to be the mythical Shangri-La. Today, Lijiang’s designation as a UNESCO World Heritage site and the recent addition of an up-market Banyan Tree Resort have put it on the map as one of the most civilized of interior cities, where minorities still go to market in traditional dress. By contrast, the province of Guizhou—where minorities account for 37% of the population—was among the last to be opened to tourism. Here, both travel and accommodations are yet to be developed beyond many unimproved roads in the countryside and grim hotels. Tour companies regularly recommend carrying your own silk sleep sack (Silk Dreamsack from TravelSmith.com, $59). It still requires an intrepid photographer with a strong stomach and patience to reach the outlaying markets and villages.

Overall, these provinces of hothouse-green mountains, brown rivers and velvety rice terraces are the home of seemingly countless tribes or ethnic minorities that still are inclined to perpetuate the costumes and traditions of their ancestors‚ but for how long? How long before blue jeans and Nikes take over totally? Constantly on my mind is how fleeting the future of these peoples may prove to be, almost akin to the endangered species that we all fear losing. What would the southern provinces be without the Gejia, Hmong, Bai, Naxi and others that turn out in marketplaces and festivals in their quaint and spectacular dress?

Today, every time I contemplate a relaxing vacation to an island beach, the mountains of the West or cobbled streets in Europe, I’m faced with the dilemma: Those places will be there for years to come, but how long for the minorities and tribes of southeastern Asia? The clock is ticking; the urgency is palpable.

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ABOVE: The Bai women of Dali are famous for their dyed fabrics. Wide-angle compositions need to be selected carefully. The best make use of a compelling subject or an establishing location dominating the foreground. The worst are a random collection of clutter with no central focus. For portraits, digital cameras with large memory cards afford the ability to fire away to capture a split-second expression‚ a natural smile, no closed eyes‚ which is hard to capture within a window
of candid opportunity.
ABOVE AND BOTTOM RIGHT: In Lijiang, minorities like the Naxi are paid to entertain as singing groups in the squares of the old town. Older generations are easily identified by their blue cap and jacket outfits, while younger girls exhibit an entirely different head adornment. With its proximity to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Tiger Leaping Gorge, and the preservation of its quaint old town, one might compare Lijiang to Salt Lake City attached to a touristy Park City, Telluride or Aspen, but with mostly upscale Chinese tourists.
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Whether primped for market day, sipping soup at home or dressed for performance, children are always hard to fool. The photographer is an immediately recognized curiosity though, regarded with a gaze of innocent expression. Silver is considered a precious metal that wards off demons and therefore commonly decorates the heads of children.


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