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'Tender China' - French lensman cherishes the ordinary people

BEHIND the conflicts, the emotions and the excitement of a news story is the quiet humanity of those caught up in events.

French photographer Lucas Schifres has spent more than three and a half years crisscrossing China capturing both the news and the people behind the stories.

Some of his works are now exhibited in Shanghai at Il Giardino restaurant on Beijing Road W. through August 7.

The photos in "Tender China" illustrate a variety of stories from the far-flung western desert where Uygurs go to school to the streets of Shanghai where yuppies feel the financial pinch.

"The people I love are the ordinary people. They were always the ones that helped me and touched me the most, and it shows in the photographs," says the 36-year-old photojournalist.

Schifres used to head up Bloomberg's photo department in its Beijing branch and now runs his own photographic agency, Pictobank, which he established in Shanghai in 2007.

He has worked as a news photographer for 12 years and his work has taken him to 33 countries and regions. His photos have been published in Newsweek, the International Herald Tribune, The Guardian, Paris-Match, Figaro Magazine and many other journals.

The striking photographs snap pictures of poverty in rural China, children playing in Yunnan Province, Shanghai's migrant workers, and other China moments.

Capturing that revealing moment when the human side of a particular story suddenly reveals itself is a skill Schifres says he learned from years as a business photographer in France.

"I always hated press conferences but I had to do a lot of them, but it still taught me much about capturing the exact moment when there is the right expression on the human face," he says.

Schifres headed Bloomberg's French photo department and covered business and economic stories, including visits to a nuclear power plant and the plant where TGV high-speed trains are manufactured.

But photography was not the initial career choice for the Frenchman, who originally had studied computer linguistics at university.

After completing his studies, Schifres decided that he hated computing and he wanted to pursue his childhood hobby of photography.

He took internships that mainly consisted of driving a desk and processing photographs.

He got his big break when heavy rains flooded the streets outside the Parisian office of the photo agency where he was interning.

No professional photographers were around, so the young Schifres was given a camera and sent out into the deluge. The result was a full-page picture on Francoise, a big daily newspaper.

"I love that a million readers gave me five seconds of their attention and then completely forget about it and turn to another page," he says. "I thought, 'This is what I want to do,' and I knew then that I didn't want to be an artist, I didn't have some sort of message. I just wanted to be a witness."

Internships followed at the world's oldest established news agency, Agence France-Presse and photo agency Corbis-Sygma.

He went on to hone his journalistic skills, studying at Centre de Formation des Journalistes, France's biggest and oldest journalism college.

It took him three years to get to the point where he could make a living as a freelance photographer, and it was during this time that he started to freelance for Bloomberg.

He spent five years working there before moving to Beijing in 2006 to follow his Chinese wife, Sheng Qin, whom he met in France.

Sheng was working for a French cosmetics company in Shanghai and Schifres relocated to the city in 2007.

In that year he started the small Pictobank photo agency, which divides its time evenly between news and corporate photography.

Having covered much of the length and breadth of China as a photographer, Schifres says the exhibition is his personal perspective on the staggeringly diverse country that has undergone dynamic development in the last decades.

"It gives a China portrait but it is my personal portrait, just viewed through my pair of eyes, and my little view of China," he says.

"It is not a naive look, saying that everything is beautiful or wonderful in China. I am talking about a lot of problems like poverty," he adds. "But I feel that whatever the conflict, we can all calm down and talk about it because we are all humans."

Lucas Schifres's photo exhibition

Date: through August 7, 11:30am-10pm

Venue: Il Giardino, 607 Beijing Rd

For more information, visit Lucas Schifres

Nationality: French

Age: 36

Profession: Photojournalist



Champagne, cheese, sex

Favorite place: Il Giardino restaurant (Granted, that's self-promotion - it is where my exhibition is! But a nice place, really.)

Strangest sight: Potato crisp on green tea mousse for my birthday cake.

Worse experience:Being served a soup when asking for sugar in Mandarin-Chinese - grrrr, those tones!

Motto for life:

Open your eyes.

Improve Shanghai:

Benches for pedestrians!

Advice to newcomers:

Don't have tea with the "English students" at the People's Square or Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall, no matter how sexy they are.


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