CHINA

A DAY IN THE LIFE

2016

All images copyright Barnaby Jaco Skinner

China - A day in the life sets out to explore often under-exposed realities in the lives of the People's Republic of China.

Shot over four years (2011 to 2015) in all four corners of the global powerhouse, the subject matter edges towards portraits of the under privileged and ethnic minority, those whom are not on traditional tourist routes, with the photographer often taking inspiration from the ideology of China's struggle through darker times and on to the global stage. From Beijing to Kashgar, Shanghai to Shangri-La, China - A day in the life explores often sobering realities behind China's global rise to fame, interacting with citizens whose ancestors helped galvanize a modern China, yet who rarely travel further than the borders of their home province.

As the photographer explains, this is not an expose of shock and awe, rather a celebration of the DNA that propelled China through the fog of the late twentieth century...

"I wanted to focus on an aspect of photography in China which all photographers and tourists are exposed to, yet is often overlooked and misunderstood due to the nature of what we consider to be communism; what does it mean to be a Chinese citizen living outside the modern cities and under the radar of this global powerhouse? Shooting in China for this project was primarily about looking through the eyes of the less economically privileged who makeup a vast majority of the People of the Republic. I aimed to navigate both cities and some of China's most isolated locales, with the intent of meeting the very DNA that built this grand nation. Yet looking through their eyes and being present through their struggle, because it is a struggle, made me question many aspects of the project; It turns your world upside down, there is no going back to your Starbucks or Element Fresh, it changes you at a fundamental level. I guess to understand just a few of the intricacies of this dynamic culture helps us as 'outsiders' to understand the Chinese culture on a different level, and in turn can act as a gateway for allowance, understanding, acceptance and change. I worked with both civilians and the municipal government on projects that allowed me access to areas potentially out of reach to the average tourist, and there were times I was unsure what the overall Chinese reaction would be; how do they see themselves, how do they want to be portrayed? Outside China and the western media often portrays China as a propaganda machine with an Iron Grip on the countries external image, but frankly I found the opposite to be true inside, I found educated intelligent individuals at all social economic levels with a passion for the arts whom thoroughly enjoyed discovering their country through the eyes of photography, my own included. These images, along with millions of others curated by China's dedicated photographers, now act as China's history record as they move forward and evolve, I think this is an important step in a really promising direction.

None of my images are paid for or set-up, they really are slices of life where the subjects are initially unaware of my existence, it's just how I prefer to capture honest moments in time. As a purist I want my images to capture honest emotion, real thought, not subject matter preoccupied with the camera or the photographer.  Afterwards I'll go and talk to the person or people, explain what I'm doing, offer a Facebook portrait shot for free, buy a round of beers or pay for dinner, exchange emails and move on. It can be quite a nomadic lifestyle, but one which allows a depth of penetration into a society otherwise impossible to attain."

Barnaby Jaco Skinner lived in China between 2011 and 2015 working for both international organistaions and the Tianjin / Beijing municipal governments. He won three awards at national level with the government with his work in the arts and tourism.

VIEWER DISCRETION ADVISED - SOME IMAGES DISPLAY LIVESTOCK HUSBANDRY.
A momentary pause

The livestock market here leaves nothing to the imagination, a time-tested script from source to sell perfectly executed on a daily basis. Stepping through from a blisteringly bright sun to the cool interior of the death-house, sweat-saturated men work on sheep both live and dead, praying, cutting, skinning and skilfully butchering every inch of every animal. Nothing is left except blood.
Boy with bike

Shooting the real world as reportage photographers, we silently observe relationships that exist between natural and human forces. These aren't accidental juxtapositions, nor a capture of the obvious transaction in a scene, or even the inferred, but actual metaphysical relationships that we could see and empathize with.
Early one morning

Forty five degrees and it's only 7am, humidity clocks almost 100 percent. Walking the outskirts of Tianjin from the ring road towards Youyi Nan Lu, one catches glimpses of country life coexisting with the metropolitan throng of China's newest megalopolis. Waiting for a bus into the city center, a teenage boy wearing hard earned cooks overalls sits quietly catching a snooze in the early morning heat, occasionally sipping from a bottle of iced tea.
A heavy load (Left)

A typical moment (Right)
Underground
Vulcan, the king of black gold

With one perfect blow he strikes the black gold with a hard and experienced nonchalance. Straight down the seam a crack erupts, and with a silent scream shatters into a million dark shards.
Welding a wheelbarrow

The market streets in Hotan, about as far west as you can get in China, take on a more wild-west tone than their eastern seaboard counterparts. A make-shift face mask constructed from cardboard, elastic and thick black glass is all the protect the welder from a life-time of darkness.
Belle and Sebastian

A young girl, maybe 5 or 6 years old, sits on the side of the only single track road passing through this section of the Pamir moutnain range. Hand washing a dusty red dress, her best friend watches with great interest, possibly hoping for a snack. As heavy plant trucks occasionally stampede the edge of this dusty mountain pass, the friends converse together in sign-langauge, broken manadarin, and the occasional bark.
The Cook
The night market

As dusk falls over this forgotten western outpost, a thriving night market erupts for a raucous entanglement of fat, dust, and sweat pitched against such an inescapable medley of localized tongue that it’s enough to make one wished they had studied the local dialect a little harder.
Guarding Mao

For the most part, my experience shooting in China was a positive one. There were one or two exceptions however, and this one was possibly my mistake for taking three cameras and a couple of telephoto lenses to China's Tienanmen square. Gaining access to the square makes Heathrow airport customs look like a walk in the park, and once in you're surrounded by fencing and security cameras to stop you leaving any other way than intended. After taking a number of photos of the core attraction (the resting place of Mao Ze Dong), I turned my attention to The Forbidden City facade, and then on to the adjacent government buildings which ooze angular OCD heaven. Big mistake. Within seconds I was surrounded by 10 uniformed armed guards, the leader of which took hold of my 500mm whilst the rest created a barrier to prevent nervous onlookers seeing inside. My borrowed Chinese instinct took over, arguing that I'd been allowed in with the gear, and that infuriatingly there were probably another 5 of so photographers with telephoto lenses nearby. WHY ME?!?! It was a pointless protest falling on deaf ears, and I was thus paraded from the center of the square to one of the corner exits on a slow walk of shame. I'd always keep a packet of cigarettes on me for these situations, pass them out, show the guards my photos, big toothy grin and in my best Chinese proclaim that I am not a foreign spy. They took the cigarettes, admired the photos, and then ejected me out of the square. Can't blame them really, it's not exactly an easy job guarding one of China's most revered grounds. Just leave the 500mm at home.
Gathering

Ambling steadily, laden with a day’s work she steps through rice paddies, over irrigation channels churning with mud-brown liquid, head down and focused. Her covered eyes offer no secrets, glazed over with the reticence of another day in the field.
End of the line (Left)

Sheep's heads are cut from their horns to provide materials for local tradesmen. horns become dagger handles, skulls for broth, entrails laid out and picked through for who-knows-what.

Brunch (Right)

Wet and beaten from a whistle-stop over-subscribed tour of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, we walk the cobbled streets of another local Na Xi village and finally come to rest at a cafe. I order cabbage and pork. Longest waiting time ever. From the window I can see a whole pigs head laying in the wet damp heat of a humid afternoon, the stall owner munches on what I hope isn't raw pork.
Shifting sand

Two girls help shift sand at one of the many building sites in Kashgar. using nothing but their bare hands they shovel the pale grey material in to an over-worked mixer whose concrete fuels the rapid expansion of western china.
00032

Finding a decent, cheap Hotel in the centre of Beijing isn't as easy as it sounds. After a few days of research I end up taking a long cab ride from Tianjin to the back streets of Beijing's Nanluoguxiang, to a small traditional bed and breakfast nestled in the Hutongs off tourist haven. Entering the quiet 5 room guest house and I'm greeted by an old friendly dog, whom becomes my walking companion for the new week.
The construction trail

The construction boom continues at full pelt across the continent, with Kunming and it's surrounding provinces being no different. The capital of Yunnan, Kunming is a vast concrete jungle peppered with the occasional canal, pet market and tourist cafe. But step outside the city and you'll find a landscape worthy of the title Shangri-La. The cement business is booming along the Yellow river, with sand and clay mining dotted along the banks as you travel through the lush green countryside, and with new UNESCO heritage sites popping up at an unprecedented rate, there is high demand for this cheap building material all over southern China.
Big Brother (Left)

Fishing in Jixian (Right)
A fist full of kwai

Clutching a handful of notes, a plastic bag tucked under her arm, the girl in a red dress ambles along a quiet street in to kashgar’s humid night.
A tethered bird
The street sweeper
The Karakorum highway

Our banged-up rental car manages to reach 80mph after a few minutes of painfully slow acceleration. Windows are all down, nature’s AC on full blast. A sudden rush of noise from behind, a honk on a horn, the revving of an over-worked engine and a motorbike passes us at over 90, stampeding the melting tarmac as if behind schedule. My camera leaps out the window with me closely behind, hanging a full half-body out in mid-air and white noise takes over. Fighting against the ravaging wind I heave the heavy black Nikon up to eye level and it’s already focusing before I compose, eager to capture the majestic scene ahead.
The grand theater
Another China

Tucked away in a far corner of a cemetary, as far from the main stretch as you might want to wander, scores of nomads litter the twisting pathways leading to an ancient mosque surrounded by decaying mud-brick walls. to pray, to wait, to hope. they are here by the will of their god. thogether they are strong.
The Micky Mouse club
A hard days work

Weary migrant laborers start their journey home after a hard day on the over-worked and saturated soil. The desolate landscape surrounding small outposts in western china is changing dramatically; motorways carve through ancient field systems, skylined factories litter the horizon, the haze of industry clouding the skies for hundreds of miles at a time, the air thick with heavy metals and cement dust. It’s the end of another hard day’s work in the bleak saturated landscape on the fringe of the Taklamakan.
Lunch break (Left)

Wings (Right)

Perched on a rock the captive eyes it’s captor with an internal rage, suppressed over the years, cultivated with recurring pain, daily depression, bubbling anxiety and stress. This humiliating routine has taken its toll. The only way out is to fly high, if only he had wings.
Reservoir dogs

Dawn brings a short bumpy ride to the Sunday cattle market, pulling in the local farmers and domestic tourists alike, where mutton adorns every menu, sweet, gritty teas spill from over-filled tea-pots and long-deceased cattle rock gently in a calm breeze, strung-up on stall corners, slowly stripped of their meat until only their bare bleached bones remain.
A new family member
The glass enchanter

Gas explodes from the archaic contraption and ignites with a flick from a lighter, a raging orange shell shielding the innocence of a pure heart.