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My Greatest Portrait.......

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Idleidolidyll View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Idleidolidyll Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: My Greatest Portrait.......
    Posted: 23 September 2021 at 08:29
Please feel free to add your 'greatest portrait too but, if you do, you have to tell us why it is your 'greatest'.

There's a qualifier in there.

Like some of the most famous Robert Capa images, a photograph does not have to be technically perfect or even very 'good' to be 'Great'.
So what does great mean to me? Well, I could show you many more portraits that I also love which are also technically superior. The 'greatness' of this one comes wrapped in context.

This was shot late in 1997 on my last trip to Langmusi before I returned to New Zealand after my Mandarin studies. I wasn't sure if I'd get back to China but supposed that it would be quite a few years away.

As I was walking the town shooting town life, I spotted this lady and her kids working on their property, preparing the ground for what crops they could grow at 3,500 metres.

I approached and asked her if I could take a photo but she didn't reply; she just looked at me so I asked again. "Mama ting bu neng" (Mommy can't hear) said one of the kids. As it turned out, she was a deaf mute but man! that smile was a million dollars!

She stopped working for a moment and I took this shot then said goodbye with a wave. I left town the next day.

Back in New Zealand, I processed the film and made some enlargements of a few but I wasn't in a hurry. I had intended to post some photos over to a friend so he could give them to the people in them for me.

However, I got a thought in my head about going back the next year. My wife was working for IBM internationally and I was getting free air travel as her spouse to wherever she was. It was cheap for me to change those flights and return to China on our way to every change of location.

So, I decided I'd take a mountain bike and cycle Chairman Mao's Long March route but backwards from Chengdu to Lanzhou.

The next year around August, I hooked up with an American from 'New Yank' (I ribbed him incessantly) in Beijing and we traveled by train to Chengdu.
From there, we rode up, up, up, up, up the plateau and reached the lower plains at about 3,000 metres. We then climbed up and down the peaks en route reaching as high as 4,000 metres (hard work riding a bike at that height).
Finally, after a couple of weeks of travel, we reached Langmusi and, after a nights rest, I unpacked the photographs I'd enlarged from last years shooting and started walking around town trying to find the people in them.

I eventually found where I'd shot this one and asked where the lady was. It turned out that the person I asked was a close relative and his smile was huge. He asked me to follow and we walked just a short distance to the family courtyard where he gathered everyone around and someone was send to find the lady and her kids.

In the meantime, he explained that she had never had a photo taken of her before and neither had the kids. I had one 8x12" and some smaller copies.
When she turned up and saw them, that smile returned, shy but beaming!
The family asked me to stay for lunch and plied me with beer and food for hours. We had a terrific time.

I left them in the late afternoon and stumbled back to my hotel room. It seemed that word of my photos and specifically this one, had reached the town centre. When I checked out 4 or 5 days later, I was not allowed to pay; management had decided I was a special friend. The same had been happening in some of the restaraunts; my meals were all free.

These people knew me from my trips there the previous year but now I was 'Maike Tongzhi' (comrade, one of us, good friend) or sometimes 'Maike Susu' (uncle) from the kids.
From then on, each time I returned over the next 13 years, I could not buy a meal or pay for a hotel room but I always returned with more photos.

It's been 9 years since my last trip and I miss those people. I'm in my early 60's and not getting any fitter. My hope would be one last trip to say goodbye and fare well to these and my other Chinese friends. COVID permitting, I hope that can happen before I'm 65.

So there ya go, my 'greatest' portrait. Did you manage to stick with me to the end? I know I can be somewhat 'wordier' than most photographers.


Deaf Mute Lady and her Kids by Michael J Breen, on Flickr

Voigtlander Bessa L. 35mm lens I think.
The Art of Photography
https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2021/02/mike-breen-new-zealand-experimental-photographer/
 



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MiPr View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote MiPr Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 September 2021 at 19:56
Mike, fantastic story and it gives special meaning to that photo indeed. It will be very hard to post anything of a similar caliber ...
I'm noise-blind. And noise-about-noise-deaf too ... |   BTW, Dyxum Weekly Exhibitions don't grow on trees ...
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Idleidolidyll View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Idleidolidyll Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 September 2021 at 20:11
Originally posted by MiPr MiPr wrote:

Mike, fantastic story and it gives special meaning to that photo indeed. It will be very hard to post anything of a similar caliber ...


Perhaps but it's not a competition; every offering has its own inherent validity
The Art of Photography
https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2021/02/mike-breen-new-zealand-experimental-photographer/
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Harm vb View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Harm vb Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 September 2021 at 20:32
Indeed, fantastic story!
Harm, with A7iii+A7Rii plus 6-400mm glass.
My Flickr
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KoBra64 View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote KoBra64 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 September 2021 at 20:36
'Wordier' yes but no objections here. Great story and a lovely smile.
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Fred_S View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Fred_S Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 September 2021 at 21:00
Great story (I made it to the end and a lovely picture. I wish you can make that last trip Mike!
 



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Idleidolidyll View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote Idleidolidyll Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 23 September 2021 at 21:12
thank you all
The Art of Photography
https://silvergrainclassics.com/en/2021/02/mike-breen-new-zealand-experimental-photographer/
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MichelvA View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Quote MichelvA Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 September 2021 at 06:46
Great story Mike. This is what travelling, respect and photography is about.
Respect Observe Capture Enjoy
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