Recently, Wonderful Machine members, Ridgefield, Connecticut-based portrait photographer Joe McNally, and Glasgow, Scotland-based portrait photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert were selected to take part in Vision Beijing—an annual photography event “with the aim of recording the beauty and development of the capital through foreign lenses.” This unique foreign assignment had Joe, Jeremy and forty-eight other photographers from twenty-nine countries around the globe documenting the arts, culture, heritage and architecture of Beijing. To learn more, I got in touch with both Joe and Jeremy about their time in China’s capital.
The following is from Joe, and recounts a bit of his experience with this year’s Vision Beijing:
Beijing is one of my favorite cities. I have now participated in Vision Beijing every other year for the last six years, and it’s an assignment I look forward to. The group of international photographers assembled for the event shoot for BTM, or Beijing This Month, which now, despite its name, comes out once a week. The Chinese are wonderfully blasé about details such as this, which is quite an enjoyable attitude to be a part of.
The shoots themselves are quite varied, and constitute the making of a giant postcard, or love note, to the city and its people. This is not hard to do, as it remains a resolutely visual place, and I have always received a wonderful welcome there. My assignments over the years have ranged from wandering around, to dance, to architecture, to restaurants. This time, it was fashion, and not just casual, “What are people wearing?” fashion. I had the wonderful task of working with a group of preeminent Chinese designers, and selecting some of their most stylish creations. I then matched them with some incomparably beautiful models, and put the entire ensemble in front of, or inside of, a major, iconic Chinese structure or monument.
This would be hard to do without the backing of some measure of officialdom in the city. Complications abound, but BTM, at least this time around, handled those quite well, and got us access to, for instance, the Temple of Heaven, two hours prior to the opening of the doors to the public. What a wonderful couple of hours! To be at this incredible piece of Chinese history, all by ourselves.
Now, when I say all by ourselves, I don’t mean just me, an assistant and a camera. When we went to the Great Wall, for instance, we went up there with an entourage of about forty-five people. And I was directing the entire operation, and of course was the only person there who did not speak Mandarin. It was a challenge! But the gowns and models were effortlessly beautiful, and the settings were magnificent. All I had to do was choose the scene, compose and light well.
All in all, the job was a highlight so far this year. Wonderful people, terrific job, and a good set of pictures. Always happy to go to China, where I have been going since 1988, and where I find the visual potential pretty endless.
Jeremy also had a memorable time in Beijing, and was kind enough to share these thoughts and photos:
As a photographer who likes to photograph people and enjoys city life, what’s not to like when asked to go to Beijing to participate in the Vision Beijing? Last year, there were ten photographers invited; this year, the organizers showed even more ambition, in a way that perhaps only China can afford these days, in bringing fifty photographers to the city for a week of non-stop shooting and exploring.
It can be a tiring week, as the project aims to maximize the potential of having high caliber photographers in town. But aided by a car and driver, a fixer, and a five-star hotel to rest one’s weary head, the schedule is manageable. From the caves where Peking Man was discovered, to temples, flea markets, violin factories and the huge Xinghai piano factory, I explored the city, aided by my young, bright-eyed, and ever-smiling Chinese assistant. Each meal was an adventure not to be taken lightly, and each day was one of those assignments where you pinch yourself. It reminded me that being a photographer is still a great job.
It’s always an education being in a foreign city. You learn of the history and see the contemporary issues. I got to talk all week with young Chinese as I worked and learned how they live their lives. Of course, you’ll never see all aspects of the city, and there are many aspects of life in China that demand attention, but this job was not about those. Perhaps the next job may be, or I can go back on my own travels to photograph those issues, but for now, I was shooting for Beijing.