An Early Christmas Present

It’s been a good day. This morning I received word that I have been selected to produce a photo documentary for a US newspaper group. The piece will be published in the spring in four parts. I can’t talk about many of the details until then but I can tell you that the project will document the stories of a group of retired folks who perform Chinese opera in their free time.  I have featured photographs of their performances before, a few of which you can see here.  The troupe get together on weekends and holidays to perform in a small park on the south side of the Liu Jiang.

I’ll be featuring some of the individual members and how they came together as a group.  I hope to profile their daily life in China and how their lives are now as compared to 10, 20, 30 years ago.  One of the stars of the show, Ms. Chen, admitted to being well into her 60’s.  She is shown here working her way up the scale in the classic, very distinctive, shrill vocal style of traditional Chinese opera.  They always draw a large crowd.

High Note

The lengths these folks go to in order to put on a show is impressive.  It takes each performer about an hour to don their makeup and elaborate costumes.  When I first began to photograph them some of the members were reluctant, but they soon warmed up to me and the camera.

The Process

The colorful wardrobe is all hand-sewn by members of the cast.  I love the the “over the top” dramatic approach, the guy below is the biggest over-actor this side of Hollywood!  I’ve seen them perform four different times and now they greet me like a long lost friend.  I’m sure it helps that I hand them a wad of cash each time but the truth is they are doing it mostly for the love of the art.  Whatever donations they receive, they put right back into costumes and transportation costs.  Sometimes they may pocket a few extra kwai but the amount is minuscule, even by Chinese standards.

Real Men Wear Pink - The Sequal

Mrs. Wang once gently scolded me for taking her photograph while she was in the process of applying her make-up. She was quite talkative and proudly posed for a portrait after she was “prepared”.  A couple of months after I took this photo, a small, frail woman came up to me in the grocery store and excitedly began to pepper me with questions.  It took me 5 minutes to realize it was Mrs. Wang.  Without her stage “persona” I didn’t recognize her!

Queen Wang

This cat always displays a certain arrogance and usually treats me as a Hollywood star might treat the typical paparazzi!  After more than a year, I still don’t know his name and it appears to me he even intimidates the other members of the group.  “Aloof” comes to mind.  He is definitely one of the guys I look forward to getting to know as I work on the documentary.

His Day In The Sun

The project will not only feature the stage performers but also the musicians who play with them.  Depending on their schedules and the weather, it appears that as many as 20 folks are involved.  I’ll also provide some background stories about the spectators who come to watch the shows.  I have seen some of the same faces at every show.  I caught this old man entranced during a performance, along with his mildly amused granddaughter.

Joy

You can find more photos of these proud performers by visiting my Flickr site, just click the link on the right hand side of this page.  I have been working on this project for a while now.  I began in earnest about 6 months ago when I submitted a proof sheet and sample copy to over 50 newspapers in the US, Australia and Great Britain.  After some back and forth email, a deal was worked out over the past week.  I’m not going to make a lot of money, but it should cover expenses while hopefully giving my work some exposure.  Whatever might be left, I plan to give it to the group.  I am after all, a patron of the arts!

Voting for the 2008 China Blog Awards is underway.  This blog is nominated in the Personal Blog category.  If you enjoy the photos and musings on my life in China, I would appreciate your support by going here.  Then just click on the + sign on the left hand side of the page.

It’s another beautiful day in South China.  It should top out about about 75F or so.  I gather we are supposed to be getting a cold front coming through next week, so I am off now to try and get in one good afternoon of shooting before the weather and my schedule at school prevent me from doing the things I want to do.

I’ll be catching up with some of you later tonight!

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5 Responses to “An Early Christmas Present”

  1. Jason says:

    Great pictures! I very much want to get into more serious photography here soon, but first I need a good camera.
    Oh, and it’s 9 C here in Nanjing, so count your blessings! (Although, I suppose dongbei has is it much worse)

    Also, I just noticed your link to my blog here and spent the the last bit reading around through your archives. Good stuff! I’ll throw up a link on mine as well.

  2. Baoru says:

    What a big project!!! Congratulations!!!

  3. Kim Howarth says:

    Michael, Congratulations! I can’t wait to hear and see how this project develops. Merry Christmas! :-)

  4. Rosy says:

    Congratulations Michael, this is well-deserved. I’ve so enjoyed your portraits of these performers… I am certain you’ll do an excellent job.
    Be sure to keep us updated!

  5. Elaine says:

    Yes, congratulations, Michael. Not only are your photographs wonderful, you have a generous heart as well.

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