Non-profit Photo Shop - Yunnan, China
Nov 2, 2008
|It was only when the camel arrived that we were awared that Nov 2nd is a special day in where we live. Apparently once a year, venders from nearly counties come here to sell minorities dresses. For the first time, a "circus" also decided to come thinking that it is a good money earning opportunity. Only when they came did they realize that this township is very small and they wouldn't get much business.
On Nov 2nd, we woke up early eager to see the spetacles in this sleepy town of ours. We saw rows and rows of colorful minorities dresses and a mini-circus consisting of a camel for picture taking, a carnival booth of ball throwing, and an enclosed tent where one can see monkyes, boa constrictor, and preserved dead deformed babies. The showing of dead babies appalls me greatly and made me very sad that people would use that to earn money.
Suddenly, Olivia and I had a spontaneous idea. Given that people here rarely have opportunity to take photos of themselves, why don't we provide a photo-taking service at cost. It would be special for them. So we quickly went back home and wrote a simple advertising sign, brought two stools, a booklet, a camera, and immediately we have a photo booth.
I can imagine we must look very silly or at least have been quite a spectacle for the villagers sitting there. Most don't know how to read and probably didn't know why we were sitting there. Everytime villagers walked by, I would point to the sign and say, "Photo? Photo?" For what felt like a long time, people just smiled and didn't come. We felt almost hurt thinking that we're doing this not to earn money but to bring some joy and memories in their life, why no one come.
Then our first client came, it was one of my student in 7th grade. I tried to get him to smile as people here are not used to having pictures being taken and appeared very nervous. Finally he flashed a big smile with two nice dimples.
Then business began to pick up. As more and more people brought their babies, children, the word spread. Soon we were swamped with all sorts of people wanting to take pictures. Some were students who want to take pictures with their friends. Some were parents or grandparents who wanted to have their children's first picture. Some were family portraits. Some wanted to send pictures to their love ones who are far away. One even wanted to take a picture together with their family dog, which was very strange here given they treat their dog very badly here. One husband told me that this was the first picture he had with his wife in his thirty year of marriage.
Given the large number of babies and young children, I took Joani's puppy stuff animal as a prop to get the children's attention and their smiles. I also notice that adults are shy to take photos as they think they don't look good or that their teeth is crooked (which was why it was very difficult to get them to smile). I had to sometimes throw up my hat and make funny faces before I can get a smile out of them. One lady grabbed on to a wooden pole with her dear life while her family member tried to drag her to the photo shoot. There was one family where the father and the son both dressed in a suit and the father was having trouble buttoning up the shirt.
It was only afterwards that I realize why we waited for a while for people to show up. Though this was just a simple makeshift operation with an amateur photographer, for them it is just as serious as going to the studio for an annivasary or wedding photo. They went to wash up and put on their best clothes!
It was a fun day.