Postcards from China III – John Horstman

Today’s postcard comes from Dr. John Horstman, a native of Queensland, Australia. After graduating from the University of Queensland with a degree in Veterinary Science he practiced veterinary medicine in the Barossa Valley of South Australia, in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast. He moved on to retail management in the pet industry and then to Sydney to work in the retail and wholesale medical book and equipment industry. In his late forties, he up and moved to Beijing, along with two dogs, teaching English initially and then later working as a Medical Editor.  He also brought along a camera.

Calligraphybelow, was taken at the Panjiayuan (Dirt) Markets in Beijing in one of the many souvenir stalls there. It is a simple shot really, I’ve seen similar ones before but I find this  beautifully composed with wonderful splashes of color and the different shapes, textures and designs of the handles all come together in making it beautifully unique. Of course calligraphy brushes couldn’t be more China.


Now that you’ve seen this weeks postcard I can tell you that it is a rare photograph for John. I chose it because. again, I feel it really “says” China and is visually stimulating. It’s different  because John Horstman the photographer typically takes beautiful macros of insects and flora. “I’ve always been interested in biology, zoology and the natural world with an emphasis on all things small, most notably insects. This took the form of collecting and later progressed to photography. With more time on my hands away from the rat-race of Western society, I ‘ve sharpened my eye and exercised my patience to further my interest. There was a time when I would take a multitude of pictures and keep them all but these days I take fewer and delete more all the while getting closer and closer to my subjects.”

John uses a circa 2005 Sony DSC-R1, which he readily admits is a dinosaur of a camera by today’s standards, but he feels he’s got the camera dialed in and can achieve what he wants. John is happiest when sitting in a garden bed, crouching in a swamp, climbing a mountain, exploring a park, visiting markets and queueing with tourists while looking for that elusive shot that nobody else sees.

Last year John moved to Southwestern China, specifically Pu’er, Yunnan, in large part to pursue his passion for insect photography. That part of Yunnan is reknowned as a flora and fauna mecca – China’s Amazon. According to John, “Everything (insect-wise) is bigger, brighter, more abundant and more bizarre than anyplace else, as you will hopefully see.”

To see John’s beautiful macro work and the rest of his China portfolio, check his Flickr page here. I may feature one of his insect macros as well somewhere down the road.

I hope you are enjoying this series. It’s breathed new life into my passion for the blog and even into my photography on some level.

Calligraphy was taken with a Sony DSC-R1 at 71.5mm with an aperture of f/4.8 at 160 ISO and a shutter speed of 1/200.


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3 Responses to “Postcards from China III – John Horstman”

  1. I got goosebumps seeing and reading my picture and write-up Michael. Thanks for the opportunity to be seen on your stage. I agree this image is quintessentially China, albeit it a dying art and visible mainly as a tourist attraction rather than a cultural , traditional or artistic pursuit. There are many such examples of this to be seen at Panjiayuan and certainly worth visiting whether as a tourist or a resident. As you alluded to, having been in China six years now, that tourist facade of the first tier cities has little attraction to me now – maybe a ‘been there, done that’ situation. The impact of human habitation on this region is immense and it is easy to neglect the natural environment that still exists (and even thrives) in this competitive evolution with mankind. The quantity, diversity and splendor of the insect and spider population alone is staggering close to areas of civilization and moreso in the more remote areas of China. Many of the species we commonly see exist because of this relationship with humans and indeed thrive on this coexistence. I encourage everyone to look around you at more than just the built environment and appreciate the lifeforms we share it with. I received a comment from an expat resident in China for some time on one of the images on my Flickr page of a praying mantis. He declared how extraordinary they were, but lamented he had never seen one. I would propose he step outside the door and look in the closest shrub or bush (regardless of where he lives). They are there, but why would they want you to know! Maybe that scares a lot of people :-)
    Anyway, insect photography is my own private little passion which is not shared by many (Chinese or otherwise), and I will hold you to your proposal of highlighting one of those images in the future Michael.
    John (itchydogimages)
    Pu’er, Yunnan

  2. Evan says:

    Really enjoying this series of images around China. Love the framing of this and the bold colours. I remember I was so close to buying a Sony R-1 when it came out!!! Looking forward to seeing more postcards from the Far-East along with reading the comments about the photographers. Are you still recovering from the operation?

    All the best, Evan

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