Andy Pavlov Photographer | The Cormorant Fishermen
cormorant fishermen, Guangxi, Li-river, China
cormorant fishermen, Guangxi, Li-river, China

The Cormorant Fishermen

25 Aug 2013, Posted by Andy Pavlov in work

This was my first time to travel in China. I was with my wife Elena and major point of our trip was photographing the local cormorant fishermen and presenting the beauty of this old aged fishing method. We were staying in the small village of Xingping on the bank of Li-River. What we needed was a chance to meet with the fishermen, get to know them, explain my ideas and purpose of our visit. The best way of getting those intimate shots in travel photography is spending some time with the people you want to shoot, familiarize with their way of living, thinking, what makes them happy or sad. I’ve already prepared a series of shots in my mind and the goal was realizing those images.

Living in small villages along the Li-River, the cormorant fishermen are people who continue to uphold a traditional way of fishing using specially trained cormorants. Before we left for this trip, we did a good choice of connecting with Jack – a local English speaking guide. He helped us organizing a meeting with Mr. Huang Yue Chuang – one of the local fishermen. In the evening before the photo shooting day, we were sitting on a round table in our hostel, explaining to Mr. Huang who we were and that we were interested in taking a series of photos of him while practicing cormorant fishing from his bamboo raft, wearing his traditional clothing, and representing him in artistic style highlighting the beauty of what he is doing. Jack helped us explaining that we would be giving specific directions to him, such as how to position their rafts, where to stand and where to look. We told Mr. Huang that we would like to have him and eventually other fishermen posing in the early hours before sunrise and in the evening just before dusk. No objections followed our conversation. Our translator Jack was going to be with us during the whole photo session in order to translate my directions.

Very early on the next morning we met Mr. Huang on the river bank and in complete darkness we headed towards one of the best scenic spots in the area. Once we arrived we asked Mr. Huang to light his lantern before the sun started rising and I started shooting. Time was passing so quickly and soon it was already dawning. These hours of the day are best for photography since the light is extremely soft. We changed several different locations along the river looking for the perfect combination of light and background. After a couple of hours of shooting we were supposed to have some rest and meet in the afternoon. This didn’t really happen. The reason was that we met another two fishermen on the way back – one of Mr. Huang’s brothers and his nephew. We were extremely happy to involve them in the photo session as were they.

In the late afternoon we met again with Mr. Huang to complete our mission. Elena was helping me with the composition and arrangement of the subjects. She has a trained eye for spotting the smallest details that I couldn’t notice while looking through the viewfinder and thinking of all the camera settings. The exhilaration I felt while shooting can hardly be described. I was realizing my first photographic project. Being confident and natural is important asset for every photographer. That helped me in building a mutual understanding and communication with Mr. Huang, making him more relaxed and more involved. I was trying my best to get that sharp focus, strong composition, good light balance and perfect pose or expression of the fisherman.

As we were heading back on our small boat to our hostel, I had the chance to take a quick view of the shots on my camera preview. The photos were looking as those I had in my mind – natural, relaxed, good interaction between the fishermen and the surrounding landscape, amazing facial expressions. When we first came back from the trip and I saw the images on a big screen I felt extremely happy with the results. As for the fishermen, I promised to myself that every cent I eventually profit from these photographs will be shared with them. This was my first documentary travel photography mission and seeing it completed in the way I was imaging it to be was is the greatest reward for me.

Check the story I captured through the eye of my camera.