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Commited snapper wins world award

THE award in the spot news category of the 52nd World Press Photo competition has been won by a Hangzhou newspaper photographer, the first time the award has gone to China.

The winning photograph was shot by Chen Qinggang, chief photographer of the Hangzhou Daily, during his coverage of disaster relief efforts in the aftermath of last year's Wenchuan earthquake. It is the highest international press photo award to be won by a Chinese, and Chen's name will rightly go into the history books.

He is commited to his work and it is possibly not a coincidence that he has won this honor.

Born in 1966 in Lianyungang City, Jiangsu Province, Chen has been fascinated by photography since he was 13 or 14 years old.

Since 1999, he has undertaken a photographic essay on selected topics nearly every two years, devoting his time to such studies as "Impoverished Households in China's Poverty-stricken Regions in the 20th Century," "Chinese Comfort Women," "Japanese Troops' Bacteriological Warfare" and "Migrant Workers."

He has won many international and national awards for his photography, such as UNESCO's Humanity Photo Award and he is a three-time winner of the China International Press Photo Contest, the highest accolade in China.

His work is eye-catching, dramatic and compelling and wields great influence. Photography is of vital importance to his life and Chen's view of his craft reveals his motivation.

"Photography represents the reality of the situation, not the reasons behind what influenced the circumstances. The photograph lets people know the truth of the matter and can reflect the state of the world and the depths of human morality. Photography is a way to present it."

The WPP 2009 award ceremony will be held on May 1 to 3 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.

Q: How long did you spend in Sichuan's disaster area and how many pictures did you take?

A: I was there for two weeks after the deadly earthquake occurred, mostly in Beichuan County. I took thousands of pictures and it was really a painful experience.

Q: What were the circumstances in which you took the winning picture?

A: It was taken on the winding mountain highway that is the only access route to Beichuan County on the morning of May 14, 2008 after the Wenchuan earthquake hit the region 40 hours earlier.

The highway had been totally destroyed and people who wanted to enter the county had to crawl over huge stones or get through small openings between them.

The continuing aftershocks made the situation even worse and stones kept falling down the mountain. The task of rescuing people from beneath the stones and moving them to a safer place to get medical care was tough.

One survivor needed eight or nine, or even more, rescuers, and they all held him as though they were carrying precious porcelain. Despite all the difficulties, there were many dedicating themselves to the rescue.

The picture was taken as I was entering the county through the destroyed highway. When I saw the rescuers transferring the victim, I climbed up onto a huge stone, and took that picture.

Q: Was the time in Beichuan County the hardest assignment you have ever experienced?

A: I was in anguish every time I clicked the shutter - my heart was exploding; it was an unspeakable feeling.

Even now, every time I close my eyes, everything I experienced there comes back to me very clearly. I had never encountered that kind of feeling before. It is not the most difficult though I did encounter many problems there. But it was the most painful experience for me.

Q: Photography is your job and probably a significant part of your life. What inspired you to become a photographer?

A: Yes, photography is my job and also a tool that I use to let people know the facts of life and tell the world. To me, it is a tool, not a toy, not a paintbrush, more like a pickax, a knife, a dagger or a gun.

Q: It is not always easy to shoot a great photo and the work is often hard, so what drives you?

A: The first reason is I love it, I love photography, and I have a passion about the subjects that I shoot, about people's stories, life and destiny. All these uncertainties lure me into the depth of things.

Sometimes it is difficult, but I enjoy it. Second, the subjects that I choose to photograph are what I think people should know about and pay attention to, what people should not ignore or forget.

Q: Why did you name your blog "Magbei," similar to the famous photographic cooperative Magnum established in Paris in 1946?

A: Yes, my blog name is Magbei, so is my msn and qq name. Sometimes I also use it as my penname. Some people, like you, always ask whether it has some link with Magnum whose work I love. Therefore, I used Magbei to pay respect to Magnum.

Q: You have photographed a wide range of subjects such as the poor, comfort women, migrant workers and the mentally ill. What projects are you planning next and how long will they take?

A: I have plenty of plans to accomplish, but what is the next one has not yet been set up. But whatever I will do, it will be a long-term job.


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