Capturing a new land
Pupils at a slum school in Kenya have fun on their playground. Zi Ran / for China Daily
Black Pearl by Qi Lin. Qi Lin / for China Daily
The lives of a boxer, lions and school children are among the tales captured by a group of amateur Chinese photographers with a passion for Africa
Determined to portray the reality of Africa, a group of Chinese who have made the continent their home are recording life there with their cameras.
An ambitious boxing champion from the biggest slum in Nairobi, talented artists in the Go Down art zone in Kenya, and people making dhows in Zanzibar, Tanzania, are among the stories captured on camera by these amateur photographers who work for Chinese companies in Africa.
The group, called HSH, was set up in 2012 by several Chinese who wanted to share photos of the continent. It's name stands for Heishehui, which literally means a group taking photographs in Africa.
"We don't want to just take photos of nature and animals like most tourists do," says Zi Ran, one of the group's founders.
"We live and work in Africa, so we have more time and energy to get to know the people, the history and the culture here. That's what we want to show to the world."
The group's membership has risen from four a year ago to 83 today. Most are engineers or project managers working across the continent. Although they are spread across a vast area, they share a passion for photographing Africa.
Zi says many Chinese people accept incorrect stereotypes of Africa because they know very little about the continent, and think that it is all hot and poor.
"Through our photos, people will find Africa is the same as China," he says. "The temperature in Nairobi is comfortable all year round. It has rich guys and poor guys. Young people have the same dreams as those in big cities in China."
Three months ago, Zi uploaded photos taken by HSH members to a professional photo and design website called zcool. Their work attracted more than 1,100 followers and received about 600,000 hits in a short period. Chinese netizens marveled at their pictures and they have since expanded into other online publication channels.
A web engineer at a Chinese media company in Nairobi, Zi has lived in Kenya for three years. He says from knowing little about Africa to going deeply into the culture of different African countries, he is now fascinated by the continent.
Through his photography Zi has a made a host of local and Chinese friends. He has also been both inspired and moved on many occasions, including by the children he met at a slum school and by the people who have invited him into their homes for food and water.
"I prefer to photograph ordinary people. I just record what I see," says the 33-year-old.
Qi Lin, who also helped to found the group, has photographed the daily life of a boxer growing up in the slums, young artists from Kenya and Masai runners.
In order to capture flamingos in flight Qi once waited at the edge of a crater lake in Kenya in the early hours, with heavy camera gear, fearing that he might be confronted by hippos.
"Except for professional photographers from National Geographic or some television stations, who else will do crazy things like this? Only the members of HSH will do it," jokes Qi.
Qi is a project manager with AVIC International. He has been in Kenya for two years, and says as soon as he set foot in the country he felt at home.
His grandfather spent two years working as a volunteer doctor in Somalia in the 1960s and he believes his special bond with Africa comes from that.
"Now I have my career here. I found my wife here and I fell in love with photography here. It's a magical land for me," he says.
As a project manager, Qi does a lot of traveling but no matter where he goes he always takes his camera with him. He says it is his eyes to see the place and its people.
Chen Jianxin is the only HSH member who concentrates on photographing animals, specifically lions.
Chen works for Tanzania National Parks. He gave up a well-paid position at the Chinese embassy in Tanzania to devote himself to a career in animal research.
"I love lions and animals. I want arouse people's awareness of animal protection in Africa via my photos," says Chen.
No matter what they photograph, the members of HSH are eager to draw attention to Africa, says Zi, who uploads their photographs to the Internet.
"Professional photographers prefer magnificent photos of war, poverty and animals in Africa. Tourists love taking sightseeing photos. We want to be different, to photograph the people here, to show the real Africa, but not for profit," says Zi.
(China Daily Africa Weekly 08/30/2013 page28)