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Africa's Chinese bird man

Updated: 2013-05-12 09:38
( China Daily)

Inspired by a chance sighting of migrating birds, Zhang Jianwen has amassed a collection of tens of thousands of photographs.

Africa's Chinese bird man

Zhang is an adventurer. The 34-year-old has been to the heartlands of Africa and returned home with many a tale to tell. And not just tales - he also has tens of thousands of photographs of his new passion: birds.

His three journeys through Africa were quite a departure for the physics graduate from Nanjing University, who was working at a tech company until last April. The journeys are something that he still talks about enthusiastically with a twinkle in his eyes.

Zhang has 80,000 photographs of African birds from his trips, 150 of which capture the birds in flight. The collection, which he has named "Precious", began when he came across a flock of migrating birds.

"I didn't plan to take all these bird photos in the first place, but when I came across a flock flying zigzag one day, I was instantly drawn by the spectacle," he says. "Like mammals, they also migrate once or twice a year in Africa. This unique path and their resolve to conquer gives them their own fantastic beauty, light and shape that I strive to capture in my photographs."

Glancing over some printed copies of the collection, Zhang says they bring back memories of his trip.

"Every time I thumb through them, I fondly remember my stay in Africa last year," he says.

Africa's Chinese bird man

Zhang got off the beaten track in Africa, leaving behind the more common travel destinations, such as South Africa and Kenya, for the heartlands of Namibia, Swaziland, Malawi, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.

Every encounter with birds brought a different experience. "Every bird photograph is a one of a kind as was their journey," he says. "Most of the time, their natural beauty is breathtaking enough that I didn't need to use many filter techniques to reveal it. It is their natural beauty that I love to capture."

It was Zhang's third trip to Africa. He has come to value his sleeping bag and camera dearly. But the most important tools for his adventures have been candor and courage, he says.

"I was worried about my poor English before the trip, but things turned out well because a smile is the best language," he says.

Enthralled by the grandeur of Africa and the hospitality of the people he encountered, Zhang believes the experience of traveling there helps people discover the beauty of human nature.

"In Africa this time, I visited six bird protection zones," he says. "I was very lucky to meet a British professional bird photography team called TEES. They even invited me to join in during part of their trip and I learned a lot from them. It is in Africa that you will find people dismantle their social labels and reveal primitive goodwill."

Zhang has put names to most of the species of birds, including some of the rarest, such as the Merops bulocki and Euplectes orix, and has formed them into a narrative in pictures.

Inspired by the French documentary Le Peuple Migrateur (The Travelling Birds), Zhang is now planning a trip to South America, where he hopes to take pictures of birds in the Amazon rainforest.


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