GCV team member Christine Labbe recently returned to the States after travelling through Inner Mongolia, a province of China, where she shared GCV’s mission with locals and served as GCV’s photographer. Her message is an interesting one, and gives readers an insider’s opinion of GCV’s mission to empower the future generations of China.
LBC From Behind the Camera Lens
There is a term in China that I heard frequently during my three-week visit: lǎowài, which means foreigner. Unlike in the United States, the melting pot of the world, a stranger to China sticks out like a sore thumb. Therefore, being a lǎowài with a big camera, bright orange sneakers, and six words total of Mandarin under my belt really didn’t help me to blend in.
It’s an interesting thing to be a foreigner with the mission of capturing photos of kids who will either immediately open up to your presence, or recoil back into a fortress of impenetrable shyness. There were so many different responses to my and the camera’s presence (ranging from one girl in a fourth grade classroom audibly gasping when I walked into the room, to a four year old boy actually punching me in the arm while I was in his family’s store) that it was impossible to predict how the next child would react. This was a challenge, but in a way, it was also an opportunity to capture a unique array shots. Not every picture contained a big toothy grin or a melancholy frown; the variety of personalities made for a variety of photos.
I have been taking pictures for about two years now. This is the first time I’ve traveled halfway around the world to photograph children who have grown up in a completely different culture from me, who do not speak the same language as me, and whose situations are very difficult for me to understand. Meeting the left-behind children that I have heard so much about for so long was a surreal experience, and having the chance to photograph them is on another level. It is a completely unique opportunity, with completely unique subjects who have fascinating and heartbreaking stories. Putting a face to the stories for those who cannot personally meet these kids is what I strove to do, and I hope that I achieved my goal.
The chance to meet and spend time with left-behind children was invaluable. To be welcomed into their homes, meet their families, and see where they go to school and how they spend their time is a look into a completely different world. Whether they realized it or not, the kids opened up to me and the camera in a way that will help to tell their stories to many people who care about them— people whom they don’t know and may never know. I am so fortunate to have been one person that was able to spend time with them— even as a strange lǎowài from the other side of the world with a camera.
GCV Team Member