To Shangri-La with a camera
On Monday evening May the club hosted a presentation by Colin New entitled From Hanoi to Shangri La. Colin’s professional training was at Bretton Hall but, although all the clichés about childhood box brownies are true in his case, it wasn’t until he chanced upon the work of John Blakemore that it dawned on him that photography might be something important. Colin joined a photographic society, entered club and national competitions before moving on to the world of salons and internationals. He is a regular lecturer on the photo club circuit and visits all parts of the country. Tonight he was giving a photographic account of a journey he made from Hanoi to “Shangri-La” – a mythical town described in the book Lost Horizon by James Hilton but really the Chinese village of Zhongdian.
The talk may have been a simple travelogue but the quality of the images, the way they documented local life and the fascinating talk by Colin lifted it out that simple genre. An early destination for Colin in Vietnam was Halong Bay – and his two-night stay on a Vietnamese-style small cruise ship allowed him to create misty and foggy pictures of this most beautiful Unesco World Heritage Site with its limestone monolithic islands topped with thick jungle vegetation. The unique style of rice growing in Vietnam and China was a key photographic destination for Colin and his images of the rice terraces and of the families of local farmers were stunning.
His journey included Hanoi in North Vietnam to encounter Ho Chi Min’s Mausoleum but then crossed over into China’s Yunnan province. There were many images from local markets – a favourite type of place of Colin’s as he says they are more interested in what they are buying rather than the camera which may be pointed their way. There were stunning portraits, landscapes, street photography and local activities including cormorant fishing and “sweeping the tombs festival”. Colin explained that many of the areas they travelled through very rarely received western tourists. This may have led to some rather strange advice on notices such as “Shopping should be rational”!
At last Colin reached Zhongdian, which was a village used in the book, now officially renamed Shangri-La. It was a small typical Chinese village with wooden houses and narrow streets, both of which caused immense problems when a fire started in 2014 and engulfed the whole village. It is now being restored (again!) in the traditional style. Colin’s tour ended with stunning images of the Hani rice paddies in Yunnan which are now also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. If you missed the evening have a look at some of Colin’s images here. During the break there was plenty of time to have a really close look at Colin’s beautiful prints which accompanied the talk.
After the break Colin presented two very different aspects of his photographic interest. The first was a sequence of nudes using just one model. He said he was interested in all aspects of women rather than simply the idealised view often portrayed. Many of the images, both colour and monochrome, were in actual fact two images side by side – one Colin’s shot of his model and the other a sculpture from Chatsworth House, often in the same pose. This provided some very interesting juxtapositions. The second showed the photographer/artist as curator rather than originator. Colin had gathered together very old family portraits which included young children to illustrate how the mother was often hidden or eliminated from the shots. The mother had to be ther to keep the youngsters still but she may have been covered by a curtain or other fabric to try and disguise her presence. In some extreme cases the mother’s face had actually been scratched out. Gradually the images became more modern and they showed how the mother then became first of all an important part of the image and finally the image becoming a celebration of motherhood.
All in all a varied and fascinating evening drawn together by Colin’s striking images.