Recently a photojournalist from Spain (but based in Asia) contacted me out of the blue after he read an article I wrote about mental health services in Seoul. He is on assignment here and wanted to meet with me to find out more for a project he is working on. We met over coffee and I think I may have unwittingly performed my first act as a stringer – the person who hooks up journalists with sources and contacts.
The photojournalist (let’s call him Albert, because that’s his name) and I talked about his work in Asia and the high profile newspapers and magazines that publish his work. He likes to document life as it is in all its gritty realness (in fact, you can check out his work here). Attracted to both the beauty and the tragedy of life, he showed me a series of photos he’d taken recently when he was based in Beijing of a pair of women. However, they were not your typical skinny, pale, fashionable Chinese girls with fine features and long black hair. No. These women were plump and homely. One isn’t even Chinese – Lina hails from Eastern Europe. But one thing both women have in common is that they are blind.
A chance encounter with the women led him to spend time with them and capture their story. I was moved by the scenes of the pair relaxing in their basement apartment, walking arm and arm outside and touching the delicate buds of trees growing alongside the polluted canals in Beijing. Both women work for an NGO that helps blind people, so neither earn much money. But the message of the photo essay, Albert tells me, is that you can be content with very little, as long as we have companionship and a roof over our heads. Everyday, these women overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles and face discrimination and stigmatization, but take comfort in the others presence, in the platonic love and sense of family they have for each other.
Seeing these photos reminded me of how lucky I am and also how special yet fundamentally important having that human connection with others is.