9 Apr 2014

5 days in China-with a Leica X1 -part 1

I first visited China in 1984.It was just a quick day trip over the border from Hong Kong.I remember the drawn out immigration and customs procedure on entry and having to list details of all the personal belongings we were bringing in with us.I remember there being no cars,just bicycles,crude motor powered carts,very ancient trucks and buses and very drably dressed people who all looked as if they were participating in a nationwide lemon sucking contest going by their permanent joyless expressions.I remember having lunch in a very drab restaurant where all the bowls had minute crazing cracks which were brown.Yuk.We only went into one small town and most of the travel was through a very poor rural area.China in 1984 did not look to be an attractive place at all and they made it fairly obvious that they did not really want us there.
My next visit was to Shanghai in 2004 and it was very different visit.It was boomtown plus.An extraordinary energy and pace permeated the city and visitors were very welcome.
Ten years later I have been back to China again.Not this time to a big city but to what by Chinese standards is a small city-Guilin with a population of "only" 300,000 in the visually stunning karst limestone peak country in southern China.I spent 3 days in Guilin and then sailed down the Li River to the tourist town of Yangshou where I spent 2 days.
Modern China really is an extraordinary place.The rate of change is quite breathtaking.China has gone from rural peasant economy to a rapidly emerging first world urban economy in 30 years.Even out in the country there are Audis and BMWs and Range Rovers.Then beside them are bicycles and crude trucks and wizened old ladies pushing carts and even water buffalos ploughing the fields.The contrasts are everywhere.So much untidyness and visual pollution-even out in the country -alongside great natural beauty.A superb hotel-the Shangri-La in Guilin is beside the river but one end of the vista is obstructed by a scruffy run down apartment block which is almost in the hotel's grounds.In the markets you see food being merchandised in what appear to be the most unhygenic conditions and then walk a few hundred metres and you see an ultra modern restaurant.

The purpose of the trip was to attend a wedding in Hong Kong and China was an add on.For me it provided a great photo opportunity.I am really working hard to bring back just a few photos which capture the spirit and feel of the places I am visiting.
All the photos were taken with my Leica X1 which is very unobtrusive and almost toylike compared with the big bazooka DSLRs favoured by the Chinese and European tourists I saw.This certainly works in my favour as the people seem less concerned by me shooting away than when they have a great monster of a camera pointed at them.Chinese nationals make up probably 95% of the tourists I saw.They now have money and are very eager to travel-and to buy big Nikons and Canons.
The weather conditions were sometimes inclement -- there was an almost permanent haze from a combination of pollution and humidity-and rapidly changing conditions-heavy rain showers and then sunshine- but I am happy with the results of my photography.
The first tranche of photos were taken on the first day when we made a very long and slow journey up into the mountains to see the magnificent rice terraces and the local minority people.I also got up early that morning to photograph a street market in Guilin near to the hotel. I just hope that the hotel did not get their meat from there.

 Technical notes for the photography techos.All photos taken with the Leica X1 - predominantly DNG files-processed in Lightroom 4.There are a couple of jpegs in there - taken on the natural setting.I spent a lot of effort-more than I usually spend - trying to optimise the exposure.I did a lot of exposure bracketing.
I probably could have used all of the shots as jpegs although the DNG files do give me more latitude in adjustment.When I look at the X1 jpegs the colour and saturation and tonality is very accurate and although they do not look bitingly sharp the detail is all there.Leica seem to shy away from oversharpening their files-unlike Sony in particular- relying on the lens to deliver most/all of the sharpness.This trip may have convinced me to use predominantly jpegs going forward and to minimise the use of processing software particularly the sharpening tools.

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