In summer 2018, I was invited by the Chinese government for a photography project to shoot the city of Wuhan in China for the 40th anniversary of the economic reforms. I joined a group of young and talented photographers from the Bay Area, who later became known as the Wuhan Warriors.
The assignment was fairly broadly defined, so I was able to choose my own style and run with it.
Given the hectic logistics of the assignment and the impossibility of shooting my typical subject (landscapes), I settled for a black&white only, highly contrast-y and graphic kind of architecture photography, that could take advantage of very long exposures to abstract the skies.
By choosing this style, I was less reliant on finding the right weather conditions and I could easily shoot through the day, maximizing my productivity and taking full advantage of every chance the schedule of the assignment could give me.
From the point of view of the story I was about to tell, I discovered Wuhan as a beautifully modern city, with striking architecture that would very well match my stylistic choice.
For the occasion, I rented a Sony A7RIII with a bunch of GM lenses, mostly for the curiosity of using the newly released mirrorless beast. You can find the review here.
Wuhan is a city of 15 million people, a huge technological and industrial hub in the very heartland of China: little did I know that the Wuhan Warriors, our group of photographers, had been heavily marketed to the local population even before our arrival. If being a westerner in China already brings attention by itself, having a troupe of journalists always attached to us was giving A LOT more attention.
I found myself often shooting while being interviewed, with a microphone pushed to my face, which is not exactly conductive to great photography. But me being me and not minding the attention, I soldiered on for the love of art and photography.
Who am I kidding? I loved every minute of it.
A very large portion of our time in China was spent performing the ancient and honored Chinese tradition of group photos: almost everyone I met asked for a group photo. I eventually gave in and started asking for group photos preemptively for the amusement of everyone I met.
On one hilarious occasion, I met a young couple in the street with a local photographer doing an engagement shoot. Have you ever crashed an engagement shoot? I did. In China.
I introduced myself as a photographer from California and asked if I could snap few images: the local photographer was clearly amazed at my very italian bravery. I posed them and shot few frames, again in black&white, that came out surprisingly decent, if we take into account that I am not a portrait photographer by any stretch of imagination and that it was all hastily organized. The couple looked happy. The local photographer not so much.
My days ended up in a hurricane of bus trips, shooting, interviews, meetings, group photos and some more group photos in the very hot weather of Wuhan. Followed by evenings of sorting and editing photos. Fortunately for me, my deliberate and intentionally slow style of shooting would minimize the number of images I had to weed through in the evening: one more good reason for not engaging in shotgun photography. Less time spent sorting photos means more time spent resting (or being jetlagged).
A big shout out to the Chinese local officials who organized some amazing dinners: on one of these social occasions, while slightly intoxicated, I taught Italian to a high ranking party member of the Hubei region, who kept eagerly using his newly acquired italian skills to say hi to my mum in Italian. Or at least that's what I remember of that evening.
At the end of the assignment, the Chinese government organized an exhibition of our work, during which few hundred people would enjoy the fruit of our labors and, of course, take lots of group photos with us.
Despite the eventual home sickness, my first time in Asia and not being used to the local culture, I discovered in China an amazingly modern and welcoming country. I would come back to China one more time after that and I have another trip planned in the very near future.
I'm also learning mandarin: the first sentence I learnt? "我们合影？"
Update as of January 2020
I walked in the same market where the virus epidemic is said to have started. My thoughts go to the wonderful people I met in Wuhan and my hope is that they are well and this crisis is quickly resolved.
Have you checked out the Wuhan collection of Limited Edition Prints yet?
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