Bearing witness is at the core of Greenpeace’s mission. In China, this mission has been made possible so many times by collaboration with one particular photographer: Lu Guang.

For over two decades, Lu Guang has been a dogged pursuer of truth, dedicating a career to exposing the astonishing toll of China's economic boom. From grasslands in Inner Mongolia pockmarked by open-cast coal mines, to the smog-choked skies of Hebei’s steel cities, the factory worker-turned-photojournalist has ventured to the darkest corners of China’s scarred landscape to capture the human face of China’s environmental destruction.

The people he photographs live on the front lines of the war on pollution, but to many of us - within China and out- they are invisible. Visually arresting and sometimes painfully intimate, Lu Guang’s portraits and landscapes capture the pockets of China that were left behind when the rest of the country skyrocketed out of grinding poverty. These images force us to confront this reality and they linger in the mind long after we’ve clicked away.  

China has changed dramatically since Lu Guang set out on his first self-funded photoshoot, decades ago. The country’s environmental problems lie under heavy scrutiny by the public and have moved to the top of China’s political agenda. Coal has most likely peaked, air pollution levels are seeing a declining trend and China is showing unprecedented global climate leadership.  

As the ethos of ‘develop first, pay for it later’ is slowly abandoned, we look forward to telling a new story, one of hope, rather than despair.

We’re lucky to have worked with him for almost a decade. Here is a selection of some of the work we have done together.

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Factory worker in Guangdong Province, 2010

Every morning, workers at a denim washing factory in Xintang, Zengcheng search through wastewater to scoop out stones.

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Severe drought in Southern China, 2013

The Degehaizi reservoir used to hold of 1.6 million cubic meters of water. In 2010 it dried up completely, following a devastating drought in the south of China.

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Li Xu and his grandmother 2013

3-year-old Li Xu in Jinjiling Village Jiahe County, held by his grandmother. Medical examinations showed that the lead in his blood far exceeded standard levels.

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Sink-Holes in Inner Mongolia, 2012

Sink-holes at the Hulun Buir grassland in Inner Mongolia, China. There were as many as 139 wells pumping water from the Hulun Buir grassland causing severe land subsidence.

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Firefighters during Dalian Oil Spill, 2010

A firefighter attempts to rescue two of his colleagues Zhang Liang and Han Xiaoxiong, struggling in the thick oil slick. One man, Zhang Liang, later died. The workers ran into trouble as they were attempting to fix an underwater pump during oil spill cleanup operations. The spill was caused by a pipeline blast at  Dalian Port.

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Steel Cities in Hebei Province, 2014

Smog obscures the sky and the smokestacks of Yuanbaoshan steel plant stretch as far as the eye can see in Handan city. The city in Hebei Province is one of China’s ‘steel cities’, where heavy industry has caused enormous environmental damage.

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A woman fetches water from the Yangtze river, 2010

The families of Yanglingang had fished and drunk water from the Yangtze for decades. But that all changed after 2003 when factory construction erupted all around the small village and the water became severely polluted.

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Hu Zhenlai, 2010

Hu Zhenlai lived by the water all her life. As she approached the end of her ‘80s, she moved with her family from the Hongze Lake in Jiangsu province to catch fish on the Yangtze river. But the number of fish in the Yangtze declined dramatically, reducing those who rely primarily on fishing to living in increasingly poor conditions.  

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Liao Mingzhong, a villager in Jinjiling Village, Jiahe County, holding his spoiled rice crops.

Wastewater from a nearby metal recycling company was flowing into his paddy fields, contaminating crops.

Lu Guang has been nominated for the Greenpeace Photo Award 2016 in partnership with GEO. View all the nominees' work and vote here.