Tianjin

Tangled in a web of wood shavings and crackling electricity, we stumble on through the dark maze, briefly emerging in a stream of dusty sunlight emanating from an unseen window above. The yellow shaft descends through a cavernous ceiling space, settling on a life-size photograph of Chairman Mao resplendent in military regalia. The over-bearing communist-red glows like a beacon on a foggy night, casting an ominous hue across the surrounding carnage.

The Long Walk

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Tianjin

Metal clad donkeys routinely trundle the time-worn tracks, effortlessly hauling their black gold charge through the city suburbs. Skilfully dodging the oncoming traffic, an elderly man walks the length of the Tianjin inner-city rail line. His daily route may be dangerous, but it cuts hours off the alternative way home.

A Single Spark

D4 / 500 f4 / Tianjin

As midnight chimes on an icy rooftop overlooking Meijiang Nan, seemingly every single firework in the entire world goes off at the same time. Rockets rocket skyward, a trillion fire trails lifting off from the earth in unison, heading for the  heavens where they erupt in a dark sky now set on fire with a glorious rainbow of hues, the once still air now choked with vicious pressure waves bombarding us from all sides. No one can escape the deluge as empty shells rain from the sky, plummeting back down only to be met more on the way up. What started with fire crackers two weeks prior builds to a crescendo as Chinese New Year chimes 12:01. Welcome to the new you..

Looking Up?

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Tianjin

The barbed wire catches my 50mm and exacts a long revengeful mark on the matt plastic barrel. Crouching in a dusty gutter, my back aches as I point a camera skyward, concrete building shells looming over and juxtaposed against rusty wire fencing, over-worked cranes, and a dull grey polluted sky.

Tianhong

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Tianjin

Exhaust fumes fill the garage air as an ancient motorbike comes to a standstill. A few coughs and splutters sees the engine finally die, the two-wheeled warrior nestling amongst peeling paint and beaten auto wrecks gathered under a make-shift corrugated roof.

Green On Purple

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Tianjin

Do not allow sorrow to embrace thee,
Nor an idle grief to occupy thy days,
Forsake not the book and the lovers lips and the green bank of the field,
Ere that the earth enfolden thee in it’s bosom.

Omar Khayyam

A Grand Theatre

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Tianjin

Water jets shoot three stories up in to the morning air as rhythmic, cascading arcs swirl from the center of the circular lake towards the outer edges. Eager crowds gather at the waters edge to catch a glimpse of the aquatic ensemble, jumping back at the last minute in case they unwittingly become part of the show. A central column of water explodes upwards to create a huge rainbow foaming in the sun, timed to perfection as the orchestral medley joins in with the extravagant daily display.  Classical power ballads eject from speakers hidden all over Yinhe square. Through the spray and mist hulks Tianjin’s monolithic Grand Theatre, an architectural masterpiece in concrete design, housing not only a 3600 seat theatre but a state of the art concert house, too.

Castle In The Sky

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Tianjin

Look…there!
What’s the matter…the Goliath?
The clouds. They’re huge.
The clouds?
They’re coming this way!
It’s a sky castle…

天空の城ラピュタ – Studio Ghibli

Early One Morning

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Tianjin

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 hot iced-tea.

Street Goubuli

D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Tianjin

Communal Segregation

 D4 / 70 – 200 f2.8 / Tianjin

I don’t see the security guard until it’s too late, the frame suddenly filled with two small black eyes and a swollen red nose, the tall neck-cuff of a generic green winter coat protruding from below a wrinkled chin. A tirade of verbal abuse emanates from his toothless maw. Pointing my lens at the lone circus act seemed like a sure thing, except I failed to see the coal power station just behind. A municipal government building under strict security ensures my security escort back the way I came.

The ramshackle house sags heavily on rotting foundations, its tired and ageing load-bearing structure strengthened only by a stubborn will to survive. Knocking on the wooden front door sends echoes bouncing through dark corridors beyond. I decide to stop peering through the letterbox, or at least the hole where a letterbox would once have been, and knock a little more aggressively. This is my last hope.

A click signifies some kind of reception. Movement, a latch falling, the door handle turning and, slowly, the wooden gateway edges ajar revealing the dusty face of a smallish man, perhaps in his mid-fifties, sporting a beaming smile spotlit by the bright morning sun. I thrust my hand forward with a very British hello, but am met by a tentative gnarled stump where his right hand should have been. I quickly produce my left hand, this time greeted by enthusiastic fingers welcoming me to his domain.

Stepping through to the cool, dark interior of his home-come-workplace, we pass discarded wooden frames, cracked and snapped beyond any reasonable rescue. Heavy machinery leans casually against damp walls, purring with comfy malcontent. Wires of all lengths and colours hang off protrusions from floor to ceiling, carrying what sounds like a high voltage current. Tangled in a web of wood shavings and crackling electricity, we stumble on through the dark maze, briefly emerging in a stream of dusty sunlight emanating from an unseen window above. The yellow shaft descends through a cavernous ceiling space, settling on a life-size photograph of Chairman Mao resplendent in military regalia. The over-bearing communist-red glows like a beacon on a foggy night, casting an ominous hue across the surrounding carnage. The unfinished, hand-carved, heavy wood frame oozes intricate Chinese style, each curve and cut revealing the true skill of its experienced artist. My host smiles, and pointing towards Mao claps his hand and stump together as if praying. Then he ducks back under the surrounding wires and is gone.

We congregate in what was once the living room, now a workshop centered around a huge glass-topped table covered with thousands of dog-eared 5″ x 7″ prints. Casually sweeping them aside he presents me with a space for my proposal. Carefully, I unfurl the large 3 x 2 meter print I painstakingly protected en-route to the rendezvous. The rolled-up cylinder unravels with increasing speed until the final coil springs open with a satisfying thwap on the table.

“So, I need this framed for a client” I say in my best Mandarin. It obviously wasn’t what I said when he begins to talk at speed about something entirely unconnected to my request.

I try again, this time with a healthy dose of Charades. Eventually he seems to understand and, smiling back, elicits a weak groan as he sits down muttering deadlines and workloads. I’ve evidently arrived at a busy time, so, apologetically, start to roll my image back up. My last hope dashed by an unfinished, life-sized portrait of Mao.

However, not all was as it seemed. In the far corner of the living room, a room which I had, up until that point, assumed only contained two people, a grating noise emanated through the awkward silence. Dust motes started to dance and shake as a piece of wall moved towards us. A fake wall. From behind the painted plywood construction came a neatly dressed woman with her child, both smiling, the mother holding a tray of teacups, the daughter a packet of wafers. They approached the table, set down the cups, and motioning to the slouched artiste suggested it was in his best interest to take my offer, else his family relationship may take a turn for the worse. With a smirk growing across his wrinkled face, a wink of an eye and a quick rub of a stiff missing limb, my hero brakes the stand-off with a loud, hearty chuckle. It’s time for Mao to take a back seat.

  • Beijing
    Beijing
    Wanderlust
  • Tianjin
    Tianjin
    Wanderlust
  • Xinjiang
    Xinjiang
    Wanderlust
  • Yunnan
    Yunnan
    Wanderlust
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    Vienna
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    Brighton
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    Wanderlust
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    The Gambia
    Wanderlust

BARNABY JACO SKINNER

Photographer & Artist

All content copyright Barnaby Jaco Skinner 2018

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error: All images and text are copyrighted by Barnaby Jaco Skinner 2018
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