Farmer-photographers enthral with show revealing lives of rural hardship

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 July, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 July, 2006, 12:00am

They had never taken a photo before they were given cameras and asked to record the cycle of life on their Yunnan farms, but the work of five rice growers has since enthralled thousands at exhibitions in Beijing and Guangzhou.

So much so that some visitors were moved to aspire to village life. 'Some said the exhibition was a good education to the younger generation ignorant of how hard it could be to farm; others were just amazed, saying they wanted to move to the village,' said Greenpeace China campaigner Wang Luxia, who is travelling with the farmers and the exhibition.

The five farmer-photographers proved to be deft hands at producing artful documentary pictures that capture their lives.

'Our life is quite hard,' said farmer-photographer Li Zikang in Hong Kong on the eve of the opening of an exhibition today. 'We sow in the spring and we harvest in the autumn, touching every seed and grain with our own hands, and then carry them on our own shoulders. This is our life and, with the camera, I can record it as it is and tell our stories to as many people as possible.'

But he and his four colleagues, all members of ethnic minorities, fear for the future because mainland authorities have approved the growing of genetically modified (GM) rice. 'Once the GM rice is commercialised, we fear things cherished for so long, the biodiversity, the ecological and cultural heritage that comes out of traditional rice farming, will be destroyed,' said Ms Wang.

The farmers, most of whom had never ventured outside their villages, had also been concerned about their photographic skills. 'They used to worry a lot about the photos, especially after seeing those taken by others. They said their pictures were not good enough to be shown,' said Ms Wang.

But the Beijing and Guangzhou exhibitions, which attracted more than 10,000 visitors, put paid to those fears. 'I took a lot of photos ... people dancing and farming,' said Xiong Guizhi, 41, who developed a technique to capture her villagers, most of whom were not used to being photographed.

'I would just hide the camera behind me and shoot whenever I wanted to,' Ms Xiong said.

Greenpeace China developed the concept of the exhibition, 'The land gives me rice, rice gives me life', to promote food safety, sustainable agriculture and the livelihoods of farmers. It is part of its campaign against GM produce.

The exhibition runs from today until Wednesday at the Cultural Centre in Tsim Sha Tsui