Yesterday was the gallery opening of a Greenpeace photo exhibit, Hope & Pain: An Exhibition of Water Pollution by Eugene Smith, Aileen Mioko Smith, Lu Guang and Joseph Ellis. Journalists, photographers, and art fans mingled alike in Inter Gallery, located in Beijing's 798 Art District.
The exhibit uses not only photographs, but also interactive installations - such as bicycle-powered projections - to tell the story of water pollution.
But the focus of "Hope & Pain" are two extraordinary groups of photographs, united by their humanitarian compassion for the ordinary people so devastated by industrial pollution beyond their control.
The story of Minamata
In 1971, photographer Eugene Smith and his wife Aileen Mioko Smith traveled to Minamata, Japan.
There they documented the story of Minamata disease, caused by severe industrial mercury poisoning. Their powerful images helped to wake up the world to the dangerous side-effects of our growing industrlization.
Once an ordinary fishing bay, Minamata was changed forever when the Chisso corporation opened a chemical factory discharging wastewater into its bay.
The Minamata Bay, whose abundant fish and shellfish was the village's lifeline, became invisibily poisoned.
In 1956, the small village was shaken by what was thought to be a frightening epidemic - it only became gradually clear that the problem was methylmercury poisoning, which had tainted the bay and its sealife. The mercury attacked the nervous system, causing loss of muscle control, damaged hearing and speaking, insanity, paralysis, coma, and death.
It took decades until the responsible corporation took action, stopped the pollution and accepted responsibility. Tens of thousands were affected, many of them while in the womb.
To this day, Minamata disease remains one of Japan's worst environmental disasters and public health hazards.
Photographer Lu Guang is interviewed by Tianjin TV
Lu Guang: Telling the Stories of Pollution Victims
Nearly 40 years after Eugene and Aileen went to Minamata, Chinese photographer Lu Guang is working tirelessly to document water pollution around China.
A recipient of the W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund, Lu Guang has demonstrated the same humanistic spirit in his powerful photographs, which puts names and faces to China's environmental pollution.
He has traveled throughout the country, visiting countless villages to capture the darker, oft-neglected side of China's epic rise. His photographs tell the stories of the country's most powerless, suffering in poverty and obscurity from industrial pollution.
China's environment is facing incredible pressures due to the implacable speed of economic development in the last few decades.
Today, over 320 million people lack access to clean water, and one-third of the rivers and one-quarter of the coastal seas are severely polluted. Drinking water supplies fail to meet standards in nearly half of the country's major cities. Overall, more than half of China's supply of groundwater is fit for neither drinking, nor agriculture, nor even industrial uses.
There's a tragic saying that holds true for many places: "If there's a river, it must be dry; if there's water, it must be dirty." But even more tragic are the lives of those whose health have been ravaged and families torn apart by illness.
Hope & Pain will run through October 3, 2010, at Inter Gallery, in Beijing's 798 Art District. The exhibition will also be featured in Hong Kong from Dec 4 to 12. You can also view Lu Guang's images online at qq.com, 163.com, and xitek.com.
Inter Gallery (5978 9029)
Seven Star Main Rd (Qixing Zhong Jie)
798 Art District, Dashanzi
4 Jiuxianqiao Rd
Chaoyang District, Beijing