Capturing happiness

By Shan Jie in Bijie Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/15 18:53:41

Self-taught village photographer teaches farmers to see beauty in life

Shi Kaixin speaks at his photography exhibition in Qianxi county, Guizhou Province in 2015. Photo: Courtesy of Shi Kaixin

The name Shi Kaixin literally means "make someone happy" in Chinese.

Though living in remote Qianxi county in Guizhou Province, an area that just shook off poverty last year, Shi is a member of the China Photographers Association, the most influential organization on photography in China.

In 2009, Shi founded a photography association in Jiefang village where he lives. Now it has 89 members.

In the past decade, members of the association, including Shi, won more than 100 prizes at different levels in China.

First photo

Shi has forgotten the brand of his first camera.

He only remembers it was brought home by his elder brother, who was a university student in Beijing.

It was 1986, and cameras were rare to people in the mountain village. Most local people had never had their photo taken, let alone operated a camera.

Shi learned how to use the camera and how to develop photos from his brother, who later gave the camera to Shi.

"At that time, I knew almost nothing about camera skills and had nobody to refer to. I began to use it to take random photos of trees or animals in my daily life," Shi said.

After some time, Shi was called over by villagers to take pictures of children and elderly people on their birthdays.

Every time after taking the pictures, he would buy little frames for them and send them to the villagers as gifts.

"They were so grateful, even though I only did a small thing," Shi said.

Meanwhile, Shi was also learning by reading books on how to improve his photography. "When journalists came to our county, I always offered myself as a free helper, carrying equipment for them, so that I could learn something from them."

He also began to take portraits and family pictures for the villagers.

"For some old people, their only picture ever taken in life was by me. I could never forget their faces when receiving the pictures," he said. "It made me realize that I'm doing a meaningful thing which helps others."

He remembered that once he took a family picture for a 94-year-old villager in Jingli village, Hongshui town. The elderly man was so emotional that he almost cried.

Several days later, when Shi went back to deliver the picture, the old man had been waiting outside his home since before the sunrise.

"In their hearts, a family picture is as valuable as a big house," Shi said.

This photo by Shi Kaixin shows a farmer placing corn under the sun to dry it. Photo: Courtesy of Shi Kaixin

Idle hands

With the development of tourism and the country's policy on poverty relief in the region, people's living conditions have improved since 2000. However, Shi noticed that many people spend their time and money on playing mahjong and drinking.

With the popularity of digital cameras and smart phones, Shi began to teach other villagers to take photos.

In 2009, he founded the very first countryside photography association in China - the Photographers Association for Villagers of Jiefang Village, Qianxi County.

Now the association has attracted 50 Jiefang villagers and 39 nearby villagers. They all focus on village life.

"I teach them and we also have professional photographers to hold training sessions. They have learned everything - composition, shutter, aperture, perspective…"

In recent years, Shi and his friends began to promote photography courses at local primary and high schools.

The project was authorized by the county's education bureau, and became an official compulsory course in September 2016 in Qianxi county, a first in all of China. All students in fifth and seventh grades in the county receive professional instruction on photography.

Shi also delivers courses in schools.

Once a boy in the fifth grade took a picture for his homework themed "My Family," showing an old man and a younger boy looking far away outside a door.

"At first I thought it was nothing special. So I asked why he chose to take such a picture," Shi said. "The student was a left-behind child. His grandpa and younger brother every day sit outside to look forward to his parents, migrant workers in another city, coming back home."

"When I knew the story, it was really touching. These children often surprise me. They are more thoughtful than you think."

Being there

In 2014 during the Spring Festival, more than 10 master photographers from the China Photographers Association came to Qianxi.

"They gave us lessons and we took pictures together," Shi said. "Afterwards we held an exhibition together."

"They are professional. But the villagers all prefer our work," Shi said happily.

"Maybe it is because our pictures are more direct and closer to their daily life."

In the past 30 years, Shi has been taking pictures for a series he calls "The Distant Village."

The earliest pictures, taken in late 1980s, were all black and white, in which people did not wear shirts, or take baths, but they all looked like they were enjoying their life.

Many villages in China are disappearing. The old houses are gone and people are living a different life, Shi said.

"There are many valuable moments that you could never snap with money and expensive cameras. You have to be there, at that time," Shi said.

Shi said that taking photos is a way to transmit happiness and culture. "We live in a village with a happy life and beautiful scenery. I want the villagers to have the aesthetic sense to enjoy it."

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