YUYANG LIU WAS A TEENAGER when he discovered reportage
photography and envisioned a career in photojournalism.
“I think it’s meaningful for the world and society,” he says.
“It became a dream inside my heart, but I didn’t have the ability
to travel and document the real world.” He was still in high
school, after all, with exams to pass.
Opportunities would open up rather quickly for the self-taught shooter. At a 2013 photo festival in China, Liu showed
some work to Emma Raynes, director of programs at the
Magnum Foundation. She encouraged him to apply for a
He did and won, earning the chance to spend five weeks at
New York University learning how to document human rights
issues from veterans including Susan Meiselas and Fred
Ritchin. “I was so excited because I could never imagine that
I could attend a class or platform like that, that big,” he says.
“It was really the start of my career.”
He worked at two Chinese publications before setting off
on his own to tell stories about urbanization, immigration and
other issues of his homeland. Connections he has made through
winning awards have helped him build an impressive client roster.
His government’s media control, however, creates obstacles.
“It’s tough to be a freelancer, and it’s tougher to be a freelancer in
China,” he says. In January, he was working on a New York Times
piece about the Chinese government’s controversial offer to
remove the intrauterine devices it had once demanded women
receive. He had to abandon plans to shoot portraits of women.
Local officials had taken the women out of town, and when Liu
went to their homes, two men began following him. He ultimately
shot images in a hospital instead, showing signage in one shot,
two people in silhouette in another.
He pushes on, documenting complex subjects like China’s
fishing industry in West Africa, which he did for Greenpeace.
Liu’s advice to others is sunny: “Be optimistic,” he says. “About
the subject you are shooting, about the story you are making,
about your life and about your career.” —Mindy Charski
Ziyang, Sichuan Province, China
East China Normal University
The New York Times,
Getty Images, ChinaFile, UNICEF,
Save The Children, Greenpeace
Bronx Documentary Center, New York City; United Nations
Climate Change Conference, Paris
Ian Parry Scholarship; Abigail Cohen Fellowship in Documentary
Photography; Magnum Foundation Photography and Human Rights Fellowship
“[Awards] don’t only help you continue your work and your
shooting, they’re also a promotion for your work. If you’ve got a fellowship,
the [organization will help] publish your project in the media.”