The Dongting Lake People

PhotographerAmy Luo
PrizeHonorable Mention
Entry Description

During a recent visit to my hometown in China’s central Hunan province, I met a fisherman while buying fish and was invited to his home, a boathouse in remote waters of China’s second largest lake - the Dongting Lake. It turned out that he was a member of the Dongting Lake people, a community of around 10,000 people who have lived for generations by fishing in the enormous lake. Largely unknown to the outside world, it is essentially a subordinated, impoverished and battered community. Faced with circumstances such as lake shrinkage, pollution, and ageing, their traditional way of life is rapidly falling apart. My subsequent visits also revealed a vast spiritual world nurtured by folklore and myths and guided by a strong sense of community and shared rituals.

Story

During a recent trip to my hometown in China’s central Hunan province, I met a fisherman while buying fish and paid a visit to his home, a small boathouse in the remote areas of China’s second biggest lake - Dongting Lake. It turned out that he was a member of a community of around 10,000 fishermen who have lived in the enormous lake for generations. It is a discrete and marginal community, largely unknown to the outside world. A great number of them migrated from adjacent provinces and have lived in the lake for generations, their elderly family members having fled either the civil war or drought. Because most of them stay clustered in remote areas of the lake or in faraway tributaries, I had to commute on a small boat for four hours daily to get to them. It seemed to me that it is an impoverished community cut away from the modern world, and their traditional way of life is rapidly falling apart, despite recent help from local governments. As my documentation goes further, I also discovered a vast inner world nurtured by folklore and myths and guided by a strong sense of community, rituals and traditions.

About Photographer

Born and raised in southern China, Amy Luo obtained her Master's degree in Film Studies at the University of Edinburgh and went on to further her research at the Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. Since her graduation, Luo has been engaged with feature film projects, documentaries as well as news reportages both in China and abroad. In 2015, Luo graduated from the General Studies program at the International Centre of Photography (ICP) in New York. She was the recipient of the 2015 Rita K. Hillman Award for Excellence, ICP. Her work has been exhibited and published internationally including in the American Photography. Luo has been cited with a number of awards for her series “Dreams” including being placed as a finalist for fine art photography in the first edition of the Magnum Photography Awards in 2016 and as a winner for the 2017 LensCulture Exposure Awards. Luo currently divides her time between New York City and Beijing working both in film production and also as a freelance photographer.