Their idea was to use TIME photographers for this ad, which is how they chose my photograph. It was from a shoot I did for them last year.
I asked Ariana to describe the process of taking this photograph, and what inspired it. She sent me a narrative that is so interesting it is worth reproducing in full:
My photograph is of a man ploughing a field underneath an incredible new bridge, just on the brink of being completed. I shot the photograph for a story on the Chinese stimulus funding in 2009 when China was funneling even more money into infrastructure building. The assignment was to shoot in two locations, Chongqing, and in a rural area of Guizhou, where a bridge was under construction near a place called Huangguoshu.
Before this assignment I had never been to Guizhou. I arrived at night and as the driver took me further into the countryside, I wondered what I would find when I woke in the morning. I was told that a TIME editor, while on vacation in China in this remote region, had seen this bridge and was amazed. When I woke to the drizzling rain of the morning and headed out to see this bridge, partially concealed by mist, I was astounded. Spanning a deep gorge and driving into the heart of a multitude of fairy peaks, the bridge and geography combined created a stunning tableau. The weather, on the other hand, was not so great.
I photographed the bridge from several angles, concentrating on an above view and below view so that I could juxtapose the daily life of the people living in the gorge with this engineering wonder. I enjoyed hiking the mountain and as I moved on dirt paths through the small, rocky, terraced fields and stone-built homes, I could see why Guizhou is one of the poorest provinces in China.
Towards the end of the day, coming down a winding path I spotted man ploughing his field with a water buffalo below the bridge while his wife, wearing the traditional headdress of the Buyi people, worked alongside him. I asked the farmer, Wei Xinyuan, if I might photograph him ploughing, since I could get him and the bridge in the same image. After the grey light of day sank into darkness and I finished photographing, I sat down with his wife and her neighbor, and they sang mountain songs to me, songs that praised the beauty of their valley. I remain friends with Wei Xinyuan and his wife to this day, occasionally returning to go back to visit them and to see how the bridge is changing their once remote valley.
I also wanted to get the perspective of TIME, to understand what led them to choose this image to represent their magazine. I soon learned that quite a large team had participated in the selection of Ariana’s photo; Richard Rosenthal, SVP of Content Development and Production; Crary Pullen, Photo Editor; John Liegey, Executive Creative Director; and Kira Pollack, Director of Photography.
Dave Statman, Executive Director of Creative Development, took on the responsibility of speaking for the whole team. He explained that the goal of the TIME Frames campaign, which Ariana’s image was a part of, is “to demonstrate the power, relevancy and value of TIME’s perspective,” by using the magazine’s “iconic red border.” The team went looking for “images from our pages that not only embodied these pivotal issues, [but also] lent themselves to the addition of an oversize dimensional red frame.” This, as Dave pointed out, was “easier said than done.” But Ariana’s photo “was an immediate favorite as it deftly captured the tension between old and new China.”