Peter Lein is one of the best known photographers in Philly and I have worked part-time at his studio for years. When Peter's not shooting supermodels and stuff, he's in places like Rwanda (documenting genocide) or Uganda or Haiti (archiving the AIDS crisis.)
He's also been known to jet off to Rio for carnival footage. In short, when he's not being a famous photographer, he's off being an activist with a camera. Let's face it, AIDS and genocide are grim topics and going to these exotic locales to document this kinda stuff epitomizes "fightin' the good fight." Believe it or not, Peter's even been to Antarctica once documenting the effects of global warming.
But there is one place he's never been and that's China. I've never been either and China is way up on my list of choice destinations! In fact, except for last sememster while my Achilles healed, I've been studying Mandarin at NYU for the past few years. (and yeah, it's hard.)
Anyway, when a delegation of Chinese Photographers came to Philly this week to meet with their American counterparts at the American Society of Media Photographers, it was a chance to really put my linguistic and diplomacy skills to the test.
Ambassador Lassiter? Kinda has a nice ring to it don't ya think?
Now it's hard to remember sometimes that China is still a communist country. The notion that you can be a freelance photographer but still draw your salary from the state really blew my mind. So whether you're shooting communist propoganda pics, or doing a a shoot for Nike in Bejing, you're still obstensibly an apparatchik of the state.
So we hung out, traded tips, had some green tea, took some photos and played host to the Chinese delegation for a few hours. And in spite of the fact that my Mandarin's still a litttle basic, the opportunity to speak Chinese when it mattered was thoroughly satisfying. I should add that Peter's studio looks a lot like an art gallery, so our guests were pretty blown away by the whole package.
Between Peter's many professional credentials and my command of their mothertongue, we somehow secured an invitation to come to China as official guests of the Chinese Photographers Association. Of course me showing up for work with a Chairman Mao t-shirt (a gift from my boyfriend, Greg) and shamelessly waving their flag (see pic) didn't hurt our cause. I should add that their offer came as a complete surprise to us. It felt a little like winning a gameshow or something.
The moral of the story is this: what goes around comes around. If you treat other people (and cultures) kindly, if you engage them with respect and genuine curiosity then good things will happen to you. Goodwill goes a really long way. In this case, it goes all the way to China.
This time next year, I will have a China stamp in the old passport. And I am positively giddy with anticipation!!