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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Documenting the lives of the forgotten

By Ling Yuhuan (Global Times)

08:31, January 06, 2012

"One, two, three." Before he takes a photo, Yuan Ke counts silently for three seconds.

"Three-Second Snapshot" is the name of the public-service project initiated by Yuan in Shuantong village, Gansu Province on August 1. Together with three other team members, the junior at Northwest Normal University in Lanzhou, Gansu Province, has taken nearly 2,000 photos for more than 1,400 elderly people and children from impoverished rural areas.

For nearly all of them, the photo taken by Yuan is the only one they've ever seen of themselves, save for the mugshots on their government-issued ID cards, Yuan told the Global Times.

"Out of 60 people, only four or five have ever had their photo taken," Yuan said.

Poignant start

When he enrolled at the university in August 2009, Yuan received a cell phone with a camera as a gift from his father, which he used to take a snapshot of his grandmother before departing for university. It was a particularly poignant moment for him, as she had been bedridden for months with paralysis.

"When I told her I was going to take a picture of her, her eyes lit up," Yuan said. Showing her the photo, Yuan said her grandmother was stunned.

"She was amazed that she could 'get into' the phone like that," he said.

"Can we print the photo?" Yuan remembered her asking.

"Print? Probably not," Yuan answered, not knowing the photo could indeed be printed.

Yuan's grandmother died shortly after the National Day holiday 2010.

Yuan soon came to the realization that the photo he took of his grandmother on a whim would be her only recorded image, a revelation that inspired Yuan to embark on his photo-snapping mission.

In July, 2011, Yuan was awarded 8,000 yuan ($1,270) in a contest as seed money for his Three-Second Snapshot project, an undertaking that he engaged in as a side activity from his full-time job as a teacher.

The project soon integrated him into the local community, where he would often make friends with his subjects, chatting with them about their health conditions and future prospects.

"For the old people, the photo itself is not that important. What matters more is attention and care from others," he said.

Among those he chatted with, a 76-year-old man named Xue Chengji left a particularly deep impression.

A native of Xuejia village, Xue told Yuan that the picture Yuan took of him is only the second photo he's ever taken in his life, the first having been snapped 53 years ago with his wife when he was still a young man working as a porter.

Taking a glimpse at that dog-eared, musty old photo, Yuan got the idea to pose Xue and his wife in the exact same position they were in more than five decades earlier. He said he was struck by the similarities and contrasts, as though staring into a time capsule.

"The two photos tell a life story of 53 years," Yuan said.

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Flora at 2012-01-1871.7.168.*
What a wonderful project. Is there a website where I can see the photos?

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