In September of 2013 we interviewed Corbis contributor Michele Westmorland about her upcoming trip to Pingyao, China. Now we follow up to see what Michele and her camera discovered.
Can you describe a typical day? How about some of the specific events?
All of the exhibitors and attendees of the Pingyao International Photography Festival had a variety of events to choose from. Of course, in typical Chinese grandeur, the opening ceremony was lavish and celebrated by hundreds of people from the community along with photographers from around the world. Celebrity singers and musicians were on stage along with community leaders making elaborate speeches.
There were significant exhibitions staged in some of the old buildings of an diesel factory and many more from local photographers all competing for major prizes. In addition to the exhibitions, workshops covered a myriad of subjects from lighting to composition to our role as photographers covering social issues. My solo exhibit titled “Melanesia – Islands of Diversity” was displayed in one of the charming old buildings along with other recognized photographer solo exhibits. I was asked to give a presentation of my work using translators provided by the event organizers. Each evening the foreign photographers had an opportunity to get to know each other over traditional Chinese food and drink – I loved the camaraderie.
Award ceremony – it was just as elaborate as the opening ceremony only inside the newly constructed performance hall built just outside the ancient city walls.
Tell us about the other photographers that attended.
Photojournalists and accomplished students from around the world attended by invitation – which is quite the honor. Instructors brought students and exhibited their work in the curatorial areas; famous photojournalists and fine art photographers were also invited to attend. I thoroughly enjoyed meeting them and I certainly learned about style and storytelling from these exceptional artists. Exhibiting across from me in the hall was American photographer Michel Varisco who explored the impacts from the oil spill in her home city of New Orleans and the Gulf. Here exhibition was titled “Shifting”.
Drew Gardner from the United Kingdom displayed his fascinating work in an exhibition titled “Forest”. He photographed beautiful women in a variety of forests along with an animal models – elephant; moose; orangutan. His lighting was beautiful.
Roger Ballen of Johannesburg, South Africa is a fine art photographer who has been exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and many other well know museum locations around the world. His work in this exhibit was titled “Mysticism and Mythology”.
Tell us a bit more about the city of Pingyao.
The Ancient City and World Heritage Site of Ping Yao is a well-preserved ancient county-level city in China. Located in Ping Yao County, central Shanxi Province, the property includes three parts: the entire area within the walls of Ping Yao, Shuanglin Temple 6 kilometers southwest of the county seat, and Zhenguo Temple 12 kilometers northeast of the county seat. The Ancient City of Ping Yao well retains the historic form of the county-level cities of the Han people in Central China from the 14th to 20th century.
It is one of the best preserved architectural cities in China. This vibrant city behind the walls is a treasure and I certainly wish I had more time to spend. If I am invited to return to another festival, I certainly will make sure to come early to explore the territory and the city more carefully.
Did you get to see other parts of China?
Right after the photography festival, I returned to Beijing for an additional 6 days. Unfortunately, I did not get to see much of the city – nor did I even get to see the Great Wall! I was there to teach at the Beijing Film Academy on a subject that gave me my start as a professional – the underwater world. Each morning I lectured to 35 young Chinese students through the help of 2 excellent translators. In the afternoon, we would go to a studio pool to give the students a chance to see what it was like to handle underwater camera equipment. I loved the energy and excitement the students showed – energizing for me as well!