In the Eye of the Storm

Revisiting a Chinese photographer’s work in the wake of his arrest

01 December 2019
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A WOMAN CLUTCHES AN INFANT in a cloud of dust as three children wait behind her; a flock of sheep made of cement stands in a dusty field with discoloured grass; the skies in Inner Mongolia and Hebei province are uniformly brown and grey. A fog hangs over Lu Guang’s photographed landscapes, adding a dystopian quality to them. The dust and soot on the faces of nearly all of the people photographed by Lu, a Chinese photographer, reveal that despite its formidable economic growth, the country’s ecosystems are in crisis.

Lu’s project Aids Village in Henan documents residents of China’s Henan province, many of whom had been subjected to illegal blood transfusions that resulted in an AIDS epidemic. As a consequence of his coverage of the villages, the Beijing authorities and the Henan provincial government were moved to improve the living conditions in the villages. The Henan government even relied on Lu’s photos to identify people and provide them with daily necessities and free medicines. “That’s when I realised that my photography could have a real impact and it gave me a sense of mission,” Lu said, in a 2018 interview with the Financial Times.

In the same interview, Lu said, “I wasn’t arrested and didn’t have any major problems, so this signaled a big change for other Chinese photographers.” He elaborated on how working independently—the curator Jean Loh once described him, in an essay, as a “lone wolf” because he is not affiliated with a media group—afforded him certain freedoms. “It’s very different for photographers who work for official Chinese media,” Lu said. “If their pictures are published in the foreign press, they’re immediately out of a job.” Previously, in a 2011 interview to World Press Photo, Lu talked about his run-ins with the local authorities in China. “I always get caught by them when I am taking photos. But usually I can deal with the situation with various tactics. Until now, nothing serious has happened to me. For example, they want to take my camera, beat me up. It’s OK. Nothing serious.”

Lu Guang is an independent photographer from Zhejiang province in China. He has won three World Press Photo awards as part of different categories. In 2009, he recieved the W Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography.