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Saturday, July 30, 2016, 12:38

Seeing is believing

By Akash Ghai

Seeing is believing
American groom Bryan Shapiro carries his bride Wana Zhang during their traditional Chinese wedding ceremony in a restaurant on Huixin North street near the China Daily office in Beijing. (Photo by Akash Ghai/ China Daily)

Before coming to China whatever little I knew about the country came from my interaction with Chinese people abroad, news reports by foreign media and endless speculation. I always felt that the mainland was culturally similar to India, where I grew up, and radically different from the US, where I was born. I never expected to see a Tesla on the road or use Uber to get around the city, but as they say, anything is possible in China.

However, the media functions very differently here, and one of my first concerns was whether I'll be able to take pictures freely on the streets of Beijing. Will locals shoo me away? Would they want to be photographed by a stranger? Will the photos be compelling?

Besides this, I was concerned with what I wanted to say about China through my photographs. Did I want to blindly add to the ongoing narrative or focus on aspects that one doesn't see in the news. Would I spend my time photographing the guards at Tian'anmen Square or rather be exploring the punk scene in Beijing? Many of these answers became clearer when I began documenting the city through news assignments and daily features.

Seeing is believing
People exercise as a woman prays at Jingshan Park near Forbidden City in Beijing. (Photo by Akash Ghai/ China Daily)

My first assignment came minutes after I arrived at the photo department. There was a loud procession on the street outside and my editor told me to run. Getting there I realized the procession was a traditional Chinese wedding between an American and a Chinese girl. It was a unique and exciting start to my internship. The photo was published on page two and was widely circulated online; I was elated.

While I'm here, I want to use my foreign perspective as a strength, with the understanding that what may be exotic and unfamiliar to me, may be equally familiar and mundane to a Chinese audience. Although my photographs at China Daily are primarily for a foreign readership, I am curious about how Chinese people see my work. Am I just another outsider projecting my own idea of China onto my photographs, or am I able to work and think like someone who belongs here?

Seeing is believing
A man carries his grandchild before Eid festival prayers at Niujie Mosque. (Photo by Akash Ghai/ China Daily)

Does my work depict China accurately? Does it provide any insight that one may not get from books? Is it meaningful?

At this point I have more questions than answers and I feel like I've only scratched the surface. Although I would love to play in my backyard for a few years, I hope to one day, play in the field.

Akash Ghai, 23, is a photographer from India who graduated from Pennsylvania State University with a major in Visual Journalism and a minor in Business studies. He's currently at China Daily's photo department and will complete two months of his internship.

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