Heritage city in north China a paradise for world’s photographers

An old man with a leather apron is riding a bike, on the back of which stand two poles,. From each pole hangs a bag full of trash.

Click. Ali Paczensky from Germany agency Fotofinder GmbH records the moment with his camera. He looks at the picture on the screen with a smile and says, “That’s funny.”

The art of photography is reaching every corner of the 2,700-year-old fortified city of Pingyao, as keen amateur and professional practitioners take pictures, appreciate art and chat with each other during 2009 Pingyao International Photography Festival (PIP).

pingyao china“I’ve never seen a photo festival on this scale before, like the whole city is devoted. It’s phenomenal,” said James Hill from Australia.

“It’s exciting because you don’t know who’s going to see your work because there’s such a great variety of people,” said James’ girlfriend Alexia Sinclair, who had just finished installing her exhibition ??the Regal Twelve — which will also be showcased in Paris next week.

Gan Jingwen from Beijing was hurrying with her Canadian husband Richard to a seminar held by a famous photographer. The couple has visited PIP every year since 2001 when the first festival was held.

“In the festival, we feel the art of photography is very close and tangible to us amateurs as the festival is open to everyone,” said Gan, “and we cherish the opportunity to learn from experts and the seminars are particularly inspiring.”

“Thanks to the festival, even many locals have become great photographers and critics,” Richard said.

The seminar Gan and his husband were rushing to was presented by award-winning photographer Stephen Shames who has received awards from Kodak Crystal Eagle for Impact in Photojournalism, World Hunger Year, Leica and others.

“Finally I have the opportunity to see China and meet Chinese photographers. I always wanted to come to China as my mother, who visited China as a Fulbright scholar in the 1970s, told me so much about the country,” Stephen said.

“The festival is very impressive. When I walked around town, I couldn’t believe that so many people were carrying cameras,” he said. “In my opinion, PIP is almost at the world’s top level. It’s not yet, but it will get there,” art teacher Sean Justice from New York said.

Sean and three of his students brought 55 photos of 25 students from New York University, International Center of Photography and the Parsons School of Design.

“It’s a good opportunity for my students to get out of their own world and see different ways of doing things, especially different ways of taking pictures as photographers,” Sean said.

“PIP is quite well known in the world and I think it is the best photography festival in China, said Alasdair Foster, director of Sydney-based Australian Centre for Photography, Australia’s leading photo-art centre.

“This is a great global event where we see an incredible amount of works, a whole spectrum of photos and a variety of cultures and traditions,” Alasdair said.

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