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Capturing a continent

Updated: 2013-09-05 01:03
( China Daily)

Capturing a continent

Chinese amateur photographers are training their lenses on the wonder and beauty of Africa, shattering stereotypes of war and poverty to show the rich diversity of the continent. Deng Zhangyu reports.

A boxing champion, a pride of lions and a group of school children are just some of the subjects whose lives have been documented by a group of amateur Chinese photographers with a passion for Africa. Determined to portray the diverse reality of Africa, a group of Chinese who have made the continent their home are recording life there with their cameras.

An ambitious boxing champion from the biggest slum in Nairobi, talented artists in the Go Down art zone in Kenya, and people making dhows in Zanzibar, Tanzania, are among the stories captured on camera by these amateur photographers who work for Chinese companies in Africa.

The group, called HSH, was established in 2012 by several Chinese to share photographs of the continent. It's name stands for heishehui, which literally means a group taking photographs in Africa.

"We don't want to just take photos of nature and animals like most tourists do," says Zi Ran, one of the group's founders.

"We live and work in Africa, so we have more time and energy to get to know the people, the history and the culture here. That's what we want to show to the world."

The group's membership has risen from four people a year ago to 83 today. Most are engineers or project managers working across the continent. Although they spread across vast areas, they share a passion for photographing Africa.

Zi says many Chinese people accept incorrect stereotypes of Africa because they know very little about the continent, and think of it as being hot and poor.

"Through our photos, people will find Africa is the same as China," he says. "The temperature in Nairobi is comfortable all year round. It has rich guys and poor guys. Young people have the same dreams as those in big cities in China."

Three months ago, Zi uploaded photos taken by HSH members to the professional photo and design website zcool.com.cn. Their work attracted more than 1,100 followers and received about 600,000 hits in a short period. Chinese netizens marveled at their pictures and they have since expanded into other online publication channels.

A web engineer at a Chinese media company in Nairobi, Zi has lived in Kenya for three years. He says he has gone from knowing little about Africa to becoming deeply immersed in the culture of different African countries. He says he finds the continent fascinating.

Through his photography Zi has made a number of local and Chinese friends. He has also been inspired and moved on many occasions, including by the children he met at a slum school and by the people who have invited him into their home for food and water.

"I prefer to photograph ordinary people. I just record what I see," says the 33-year-old.

Qi Lin, who helped to found the group, has photographed the daily life of a boxer growing up in the slums, young artists from Kenya and Masai runners.

To capture flamingos in flight Qi once waited at the edge of a crater lake in Kenya in the early hours of the morning, holding heavy camera gear, scared that he might be confronted by hippos.

"Except for professional photographers from National Geographic or some television stations, who else will do crazy things like this? Only the members of HSH will do it," jokes Qi.

Qi is a project manager with AVIC International, an aviation technology corporation. He has been in Kenya for two years, and says as soon as he set foot in the country he felt at home.

Capturing a continent

Pupils at a slum school in Kenya have fun on their playground.Photos by Zi Ran / for China Daily

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