Developing an interest in wildlife
Xi Zhinong (third from right), founder of Wild China Film studio, teaches members of China Wildlife Photography Training Camp the techniques and skills they will need. [photo/China Daily]
Photographer teaches how powerful images can raise the awareness of environmental challenges
BEIJING - Xi Zhinong has mixed feelings about the year 2010. On the one hand, he is frustrated because the time he spent on conducting fieldwork was less than three months, much less than the six months doing it the previous year. On the other hand, his many lectures around China spreading the idea of environmental protection through the power of images gives him some comfort because more and more people are being influenced by him.
Xi is a pioneer of wildlife photography in China. He caught the attention of the world with his famous documentary about the Yunnan black snub-nosed monkey in 2002. It was the first time that the life of this endangered species had been recorded authoritatively.
In 1992, the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Chinese National Natural Science Foundation launched a program to protect the black snub-nosed monkey, and Xi volunteered to be the photographer for the protection team. In the subsequent three years, Xi recorded the monkey's lives with his camera in the snowy mountains in the face of all kinds of difficulties.
Xi's interest in wildlife photography transformed him into an environmentalist. In 1997, his pictures capturing the large-scale poaching of Tibetan antelopes in Hoh Xil drew much interest among the general public and raised people's awareness of wildlife protection.
Xi established the Wild China Film studio in 2002. It is a specialist organization devoted to environmental and wildlife protection using the power of images.
Two years later, the studio initiated the China Wildlife Photography Training Camp, in an attempt to cultivate Chinese ecological photography and to promote public participation in a "green" campaign through the publication of photographs.
Xi said that he's very pleased to see more and more people joining in the camp.
"The campers in 2010 were the most diverse group because they came from a variety of industries. Among them, there were teachers, lawyers, doctors and entrepreneurs," Xi said.
Fan Yi was one of the campers. In order to have more spare time to get closer to nature and shoot pictures of wildlife and the environment, the 34-year old quit his job as an engineer with China Telecom in Kunming, Yunnan province, in the first half of last year.
Fan joined the camp on May 22, a day he still remembers very clearly because it was International Day for Biological Diversity.
In addition to developing photographic skills and the concept of environmental protection, Fan said he had the feeling that these ecological photographers were in a race against time because the pace of environmental destruction caused by humans is faster than their action in pressing the shutter.
"Maybe what I shot two years ago is no longer available for other photographers today," Fan said.
Fan developed his love for nature and animals in his childhood, when he used to go to his relative's home in the suburbs for vacation.
However, an experience of photographing insects using a macro lens at Yunnan University in 2007 gave impetus to his interest in ecological photography.
"I have broadened my horizons during my shooting trips, recognizing more species and covering more areas," said Fan. "However, with more pictures taken, I have also witnessed more and more negative sides to the environment - for example, severe deforestation.
"I totally agree with Xi's idea of promoting environmental protection through photography and will continue in this field as long as I'm alive."
Zhang Yichi, a 13-year old boy, wanted to join in the 2010 camp but was considered to be too young. However, he says he will apply again this year.
Xi is inspired by Zhang's interest and says he is considering developing a training camp designed for adolescents only.
Xi described his life in 2010 as more sociable and hoped this year he could spend more time outdoors.
"Having taken so many flights and stayed in luxurious hotels, last year was like a nightmare for me," the environmentalist said, adding that the air-conditioner is a cause of big problems for the environment.
"I do think it's a pity that I have not produced any documentaries since 2002. I have been occupied with all this social stuff and couldn't make time for fieldwork," he added.
But he confirmed that he will soon embark on a journey to photograph the fifth species of snub-nosed monkey, recently found in northern Myanmar.
"This is very exciting," said Xi, who couldn't hide his delight in talking about the upcoming journey. He has already taken pictures of four categories of snub-nosed monkeys, three of them in China and one in Vietnam. All of them are considered to be rare animals.
On the day of the interview, Xi was busy fighting against the relocation of Kunming zoo via his micro-blogging site. He heard the news of the possible move that morning.
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