A day in the life


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 harder times and on to the global stage. Shot primarily in Beijing, Tianjin, Kashgar, Hotan, Shanghai, Shangri-La, Kunming, Hong Kong and Macau, 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 China which all photographers and tourists are exposed to, yet is often overlooked and/or misunderstood due to how us ‘westerners’ have been taught about communism. I set out to ask ‘what does it mean to be a Chinese citizen living outside the modern high-tech 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 through the backstreets of cities and some of China’s more isolated locales, with the intent of meeting the DNA that built this grand nation. To understand just a few of the intricacies of this dynamic culture helps us as ‘outsiders’ to understand the Chinese culture on an honest 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 local reaction would be. The western media often portrays China as a machine with an iron grip on the countries external image, but frankly I found the opposite to be true inside; educated intelligent individuals exist at all social economic levels with a passion for the arts whom thoroughly enjoy discovering their country through the eyes of photography, my own included. These particular candid images, along with millions of others curated by China’s own dedicated photographers, now act as an accepted slice of China’s image in history as they move forward, which is a ground breaking move in any nation’s evolution.

None of my images are set-up, I aim to capture honest emotion and real thought, not subject matter preoccupied with how they look. Sometimes this means ramping up the ISO or shooting in less-than-perfect light, but I like it that way, it’s more travel reportage than glossy magazine. Afterwards I’ll go and talk to the person or people, explain what I’m doing, offer a 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

Photographer & Artist

A Momentary Pause

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Yarkant – China

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

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Hotan – China

A young boy sits on a motorcycle, polishing the dusty fuel tank. His parents were selling small pieces of Jade they have fished out of the White Jade River, not interested in me or my camera. Hotan is a small desert town in western China and is quite the attraction for Chinese domestic tourism.


Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Naxi – China

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.

End of the Line

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Yarkant – China

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.

Vulcan, the king of black gold

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar – China

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

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Hotan – China

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.

The Construction Trail

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Yunnan highways – China

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.

The Night Market

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar – China

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.

Lunch Break

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Dukezong – China

A Typical Moment

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Tianjin – China

Guarding Mao

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Beijing – China

Within seconds of shooting I was surrounded by ten uniformed armed guards, the leader of which gently took hold of the 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 I was shooting purely personal work. It was a pointless protest falling on deaf ears, and I was 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’m not the enemy. They usually took the cigarettes, admired the photos, and then ejected me wherever I shouldn’t have been.

Belle and Sebastian

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Pamir mountain pass – China

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.


Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / The Yellow River – China

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.

Early One Morning

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Tianjin – China

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 latest 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 Fist Full of Kwai

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar – China

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 Hard Days Work

Nikon D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / China Pakistan border – China

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.

Rice Fields

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Yunnan highlands – China

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.

The Glass Enchanter

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Dali – China

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.

Behind Bars

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Kunming – China

Another Day

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Hotan – China

Reservoir Dogs

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Yarkant – China

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.

The Cook

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Beijing – China

Fishing in Jixian

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Jixian – China

The Collector

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Town limits, somewhere in Yunnan – China

Shifting Sand

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar – China

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.


Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Tianjin – China

Every day after school she would sit in the container, every day. Selling the family chickens and eggs to the local shoppers was just a pass time, her real purpose was getting some personal time to finish her school work. She had big ambitions.

The Coal Truck

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Tianjin – China


Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Tianjin – China

Mid Autumn Harvest

Nikon D4 / Nikkor 70-200 f2.8 / Tianjin – China

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