For the last five days I’ve been leading a photography workshop in Yunnan, China, a favourite area of mine. We’re based in a converted Naxi courtyard farmhouse in the old village of Shuhe, about half an hour from Lijiang. Called The Bivou, it’s the idea of an architect friend of mine with a practice in Shanghai, offering activities like climbing, trekking — and of course photography — with close connections to the surrounding small communities.
Something very special just happened, because of these close connections. Four days ago, an 80-year old woman died in one of the Yi minority villages in the mountains. Teacher Liu from a neighbouring Yi village told the Bivou, and that we were invited to attend the funeral. What an opportunity; there would be one of the biggest gatherings for a long time, with groups from the surrounding valleys and hills arriving, dressed in their traditional clothes. We dropped out other plans immediately, and yesterday morning drove up to the mountains northwest of here. I have ten participants in this workshop, from Singapore, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Moscow and London.
The village, rather sweetly named Xue Hua, meaning Snowflake, lies at the foot of Yulong Snow Mountain at over 3,000 metres, an hour and a half’s drive from Shuhe. We were careful to follow protocol, guided through this by Teacher Liu, taking appropriate gifts like the Yi guests – cigarettes, baijiu (white liquor, 50º plus), and a monetary gift. Cameras not used at all until we had met the family, sat with them and talked, drinking tea around the fire. The Yi are quite robust about this rite of passage, and the wake is an occasion for gathering and reinforcing community relationships as well as sending the departed with appropriate rituals.
A few images from the day. We are now, as a group, editing and choosing images to produce a photo story on this occasion. We’ll be publishing it within the print-on-demand book we’re preparing. This could be interesting if you’re thinking of Assignment 5 – Covering an event, in Progressing with Digital Photography (HE Level 5). You’ll notice the establishing shot, timed for one of the group arrivals to make it work a bit harder, and framed to include Yulong Snow Mountain behind.