Guest entry by John Novis, head of the Greenpeace International Picture Desk.
Today the 2010 Dali International Photo Exhibition comes to an end after an eventful week of presentations, seminars and photo exhibitions. I was fortunate to be invited and have been well looked after in this most beautiful of ancient Chinese cities, Dali in the South West province Yunnan.
Greenpeace secured four good-sized galleries near the tourist bar street just by the impressive Wuhua Tower in the centre of town. We had three photo exhibits Nick Cobbing’s Arctic Sunrise 2009 trip to Greenland, Chinese photographer Lu Guang’s drought and water pollution in West China and my own Tibet Plateau and Himalayas Mount Everest Rongbuk glacier disappearing.
When I was present, in between presentation and media interviews at the gallery I could see Lu Guang’s powerful images of harsh pollution and devastating drought was bringing news and revelation to the festivalgoers. One Californian photographer came over to me at our friendly local coffee bar next to the gallery and said he was truly speechless at the power of the work. Just at that moment Lu Guang appeared and the American gentleman felt his whole trip was now perfect having met the great Chinese artist.
Later in the day my colleagues jokingly said come with us we want to show you something. I was confronted with a huge picture of myself outside the cultural centre with my name and info in Chinese characters along with other speakers. I wasn’t sure how I felt but had to have a photograph to send the folks back home.
There was also huge interest in the 1968 – 2007 Rongbuk glacier comparison picture I took on the Greenpeace Everest expedition. So much so the organisers of the exhibition announced they want to put the print on permanent show at the modern museum and culture centre near the old town. It turned out there were four selected pictures from the thousands of pictures exhibited and in true china style a large handing over ceremony with the mayor, curators and local government exchanged the prints to a large photo call to add to the city’s image collection.
Interestingly this is the same comparison picture that Greenpeace China gave to
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on a recent visit to China. Allegedly the picture hangs on his office wall in The United Nations Secretariat Building at the United Nations headquarters in New York City. Ban Ki-moon told Greenpeace he wanted to see the photo to remind him of the importance of climate change.
I found out that the city of Dali is home to the Bai ethnic minority and most of the people from local government are either Bai or connected descendents. The Bai are still very close to nature. The huge Lake Erhai is pollution free and the environment surrounding is clean and cared for. I quickly found after giving my presentation on Greenpeace images why we were turning out to be so popular. Our work to save the planet resonated strongly with local government, media, students and townsfolk. The timing too was impeccable where I was able to add the powerful Dalian oil spill pictures at an almost breaking news timing. It turned out many folk were unaware and shocked by the oil images shown to them. We were indeed raising the festival, though photography, to a cutting edge level.
Later we heard Lu Guang had won the best picture at the whole exhibition, Greenpeace had won a special contribution award and I was asked to join the jury to judge the photo competition on 'Yunnan environment' where the winner was announced at the closing ceremony.
Whilst all this was happening my Greenpeace China colleagues were giving interviews to local television in between dealing with the oil spill pictures demanded by the global media. By the way, Yunnan local media is not to be sniffed at and is in fact watched by millions right across the South west of China.
We went from strength to strength throughout the week and by the comments feeding in we are seen as leaders of our field and an inspiration to others.
There was a feeling of sadness this morning when my colleagues, Zhong Hu, Kuang Yin, Fish and the master himself Lu Guang were making our own way back across China. We had worked closely together and pulled off a great memorable show and managed to command a whole new audience, a great many of whom hadn’t realised there were activists and supports all over the world striving to make the world a greener and safer place as shown to them though the compelling Greenpeace photo archive.