Cormorant fishermen from Xingping

How this all started:
Few years ago I saw an image with a cormorant fisherman in Guilin and I got hooked. It looked amazing, with the traditional outfit, the fragile bamboo raft and the birds with the wings wide open. All this in a stunning environment with crazy beautiful karst mountains. I swore that I will get there and try to get a chance to photograph them. This year Carmen and I decided to travel to China. An amazing country, so vast and beautiful that is really overwhelming to choose an itinerary. But Guilin had to be on the list and we tried our best to accommodate it on our journey.

We spent 4 days in Guilin, arriving from Shanghai by plane, in the really cool Liangjiang airport inspired by the landscape of the region. 3 of those days we had a private photo tour, with a generous portion of cormorants fishermen shooting. Three sessions to be more precise.

Some facts:
These days, the fisherman are not exercising their craft, but rather modelling for photographers. This is because the quantity of fish in Li river has been drastically reduced in the recent years; above all, the industrial ways made the cormorant fishing a dying art. So, how does it work? To control the birds, the fishermen tie a snare near the base of the bird’s throat to prevent the bird from eating larger fish. The birds swallow smaller fish, but keep the larger ones in their throat. When the bird manages to catch a larger one, the fishermen brings the bird back on the raft and remove the fish from its throat.
Huang Quande, 89
Our first contact with the fishermen was a visit at the home of Huang Quande, which, at 89 years old, is the older in the Xinping village. According to our guide, he is too old for going out on the raft and doing fisherman specific modelling; therefore he is welcoming the tourists and photographers at his home where some areas are kept to look old and damaged, providing a good photography backdrop. First, he started fire in the old kitchen, smoking and chopping a large piece of wood; then moved on to some annex of the house, left almost abandoned. In the end we got some really nice portraits in the process.


The evening continued with his brother, Huang Yuechuang (78) posing on the bank of the river. He joined us in a quite popular spot, where there were already 3 other fishermen posing for groups of photographers and we got some nice portraits of him and his two birds. But there was nothing really special about this session as the light was quite dull. 

Huang Yuechuang, 78

The highlight of the tour was an amazing morning session with Huang Gaohui in a stunning area on the banks of Li river. We started the day early at 4:00 am and arrived to the location 45 minutes later. From there a 15 mins walk through the forest, with our guide sweeping the path with a tree branch to scare the snakes off. Apparently during the summer there are cobras there, however, in this period they are not that many.

Huang Gaohui, 67
Arriving by the river, we could see the flashlight of the Gaohui. After that, he helped us crossing to a different spot on his bamboo raft. A bit out of our comfort zone to cross on 4 long pieces of bamboo sicked together, but the old fishermen had a calming impact given by the experience of a person that spend most of hist life on the river. Arriving in the spot, the dawn was almost starting, revealing some breathtaking landscape. In quick succession, we took hundreds of shots, enjoying the peaceful scenery and the really photogenic model.

He was casting his net, raising the cormorants. In addition he smoked, paddled and fired his gas lamp. It was an amazing feeling. Almost alone, in a quiet place of amazing beauty, enjoying the nature and the traditional China in the same time. And the light sunrise, painting the scene with soft tones helping us to get the images we dreamed about.

In the light of our experience photographing the beautiful cormorants fishermen, our time in Guilin was a success.
We had other amazing experience like a beautiful sunrise from Xianggong Hill, photographing the ‘buffalo soldier’ and the old people in Daxu ancient town. We came back with lots of good visual stories and the mind full of great memories. Therefore, we have a strong wish to explore the rural China again in the future.

Equipment used:
Carmen: Nikon D610, Nikkor 50mm f1.4 and Nikkor 20mm f1.8
Dragos: Nikon D800, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8, Nikkor 50mm f1.4 and Nikkor 20mm f1.8

Versiunea in romana a acestei povesti, publicata pe blogul f64


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