In this smart phone age, taking a picture is as easy as blinking the eyes. So many of them are taken and shared everyday that we hardly feel any attachment to a particular one.
But in China’s tourism city Hangzhou, a group photo took professional photographers a whole month and thousands of kilometres of travel to take.
It is a photo of 87 veterans in the city who fought in the War to Resist US Aggression and Aid Korea in the 1950s. Most of them are nonagenarians today.
The idea came from Xue Yuhua, a veterans’ welfare fund manager, himself a retired officer. His fund, established early last year, pays regular home visits to veterans, organises cataract surgeries, provides home care and daily necessities, and plans birthday parties for the heroes.
While doing his daily work, Xue is struck by the fact that 10 veterans passed away within less than one year. During his home visits, some ask to take a coloured picture in their old uniforms because all they had were black and white ones; some ask about their comrades because they can no longer walk out of their houses to meet each other in person.
Xue thought to himself, “Why not take a picture of every one of them and piece them up into a group photo? This way they can all have a new picture as a tribute to the past and also see one another.” His idea won the support of a number of professional photographers. Their project began on October 25, 2021, the 71st anniversary of the war. At the time, there were 89 veterans of the war in Hangzhou, aged above 90 on average. Many were bedridden.
Xue and his team crafted a detailed plan to take individual pictures based on where the veterans lived and their different ages and health conditions. The older and more frail were given top priority. Although photo editing has become much easier these days, merging so many pictures into one is still demanding. Photographers were meticulous about who should be where in the picture according to the heights and health status of the heroes.
In the following month, they split into different teams and travelled 1 000km to 16 towns and villages. Wang Quanyuan, a bedridden veteran, was very serious and excited about the project.
Encouraged by his spirits, the photographer decided to use his bed as the background. With the help of his family, Wang Quanyuan used all his strength to put himself in the uniform, lied in the bed as straight as he could and fixed his eyes firmly on the camera. The photographer stood on a bedside chair and aimed his lenses downwards to capture the solemn moment.
Another veteran Zhuang Zhengfu was hospitalised in another city, with tubes in his nose. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, photographers could not visit him in his hospital. They gave guidance to Zhuang’s family over WeChat, China’s messaging app. After many clicks, they finally secured a good one.
The group photo was completed a month later on November 25, 2021 and put on display to the general public. Some veterans who could make it to the exhibition hall were in tears seeing the faces of their comrades. It was also an awe-inspiring experience for other visitors from the general public.
Preserving history and the memory of heroes is a critical part of protecting our national identity. With deep respect and modern technology, we will find new ways to immortalise those worth remembering.