Wushu

Sep 21, 2011
Photographer Spotlight

Laura Barisonzi’s photography focuses on, “capturing the excitement of real action and movement, along with compelling subject matter.” Her photographs are all about movement, bright colors and strong graphic presentations. After getting a commercial assignment in China, Laura knew it was the perfect opportunity for a new, personal project that would perfectly encapsulate her style. It was this desire for a Chinese personal project that lead Laura to wushu.

Wushu is a term that encompasses Chinese martial arts. Currently, the name has evolved to mean a national Chinese full-contact sport. Wushu is “also known as martial arts or gongfu, it is based in traditional Chinese attack and self defense skills, often making use of weapons such as the sabre, spear, and straight sword. Wushu is under consideration as a sport for the 2020 summer Olympics.”

Having studied Mandarin for years, and living in China in the past, Laura knew she could create something unique and memorable during this trip. After thinking about her proect options for some time, she decided on wushu as a way to combine her major interests,

Wushu seemed like a great idea because so much of my work is about sports, action, and fitness and wushu is the Chinese national sport and an important part of their cultural tradition. Also, I wanted to make sure to show something that captures the energy, vitality and culture of the people, which I think is lacking in a lot of contemporary photography of China.

Once she had her concept set, Laura went about trying to find subjects to shoot. This turned out to be somewhat of a challenge,

I had to get access which is never easy in China. The majority of the subjects are employees of the government—professional athletes paid to train and compete—and the government doesn’t have much interest in publicity materials or publicizing wushu. Luckily after a lot of legwork and courtesy banquets I was able to meet the right people and make contact with several coaches and athletes who were willing to participate in the project. I was lucky enough to get to shoot at many of the top programs in the country including where Jet Li trained. Many of them are elite athletes and train six days a week, so my time with them was very limited, however many got enthusiastic about it after seeing the results.

To properly art direct the shoot, Laura decided to learn as much as she could about the moves and vocabulary that goes along with wushu. Laura believes in researching and learning as much as possible about any sport she’s shooting, and finds that it definitely pays off in the resulting photos. However, even knowing as much as she could about the subject, the shoots weren’t exactly easy,

Wushu is difficult to shoot because of the rapid movement and large area the martial arts patterns cover. There are safety issues in terms of being too close to swinging sticks and swords and with the athletes doing the aerial moves anywhere other than on their protective mats. Also, some of the moves I was asking the athletes to do were very physically challenging and couldn’t be repeated more than a few times in one day. Probably the most challenging part of the shoot was communication though. I did almost all the art direction in Mandarin and my assistant didn’t speak English.

But, even with these difficulties, Laura was able to produce some amazing shots. The project also, “really solidified my ideas that researching a subject and developing ideas are equally important, if not more so, than the technical aspects of personal shooting.”

You can view Laura’s entire Wushu project on her site.

– Maria Luci

Tags: china laura barisonzi spotsfitess photography wushu