“The Land gives me rice, Rice gives me Life”

Interview with five rice farmers turned photographers

Feature Story - 2006-08-22
How did photographs taken by five rice farmers from Yunnan province, who’d never before held a camera, manage to capture the hearts and minds of urban consumers in some of China’s biggest cities? Four of the five farmer photographers, Bai Yun Xian, Li Ming Fu, Xiong Gui Zhi, Li Zhi Kan, were present at the launch of the Hong Kong leg of the exhibition “The land gives me rice, rice gives me life” at the HK Cultural Centre, which ran from 23rd-26th July. We spoke to the farmers at the exhibition launch about their experiences.

The joy of a golden harvest

"The Road of Rice" - The rice farmers swapped their farming tools for cameras to document one year in the life of their villages, to communicate the importance of rice to their lives and livelihoods of their communities. The images they were able to capture show their love and passion for the land on which they rely and, indeed, show similar feelings for their newly learnt skill - photography.

Bearing witness - putting ourselves at the scene of environmental destruction and capturing images in order to raise public awareness of the problems - is one of Greenpeace's core values. Li Ming Fu spoke of the message he wanted to convey through his photographs "the life of farmers is hard, I wanted to show this to the public."

"Rice is life" - As the farmers were all novice photographers, they had to overcome technical difficulties and face interesting challenges in the process of producing the fantastic results that all could see on display at the exhibition. "Photography was not easy as it was unfamiliar to us but we were all interested in taking photos" said Li Zhi Kan. Xiong Gui Zhi explained her experience "I was curious about working a camera. I wanted to record every part of our lives." When asked about their favourite photos, Bai Yun Xian, answering for all the farmers, said, "all of them are our favourites as they're all the reflection of our real lives".

When we asked the farmers, who were all in Hong Kong for the first time and were a little shy, "will you give up farming?" Bai Yun Xian said, "absolutely not, rice is our life, we're willing to devote our lives to it." Xiong Gui Zhi said, " we can't live without rice."

As city dwellers, we have lost the intimate, crucial connection that these rice farmers have with the environment. Speaking to these farmers who maintain the richness and diversity of the 'food of life - Rice', and who urgently wanted the world to understand their connection to the land that gives them, and us, rice, gives us all food for thought indeed.

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