A Chinese Photographer's 'Infernal Landscapes'

lu guang china pollution photography photo
Photograph by Lu Guang via National Press Photographers Association.

Freelance photojournalist Lu Guang's unflinching images of AIDS victims in China's Henan province, honored in the World Press Photo contest for 2003, successfully prodded a reluctant Chinese government to take action against the epidemic. In giving the photographer this year's W. Eugene Smith Award, jury members expressed their hopes that his latest work would do the same for the country's industrial pollution.From Factory Worker to Photojournalist
Born in Zhejiang Province in 1961, Guang worked in a silk factory before studying at a fine arts academy in Beijing. He has spent the past four years documenting the effects of pollution in China. A slideshow of Guang's work on the New York Times' photojournalism blog, Lens, provides a moving look at the country's "infernal landscapes," and the people working and living within them.

In his images, the smokestacks of a steel plant rise out of bleak, barren soil. Two young, dirt-smudged children cling to their 9-year-old brother, the oldest of a family of five who moved to Inner Mongolia from a nearby region to find work in an industrial district. A sewage plant discharges untreated waste into the Yangtze River. A young woman looks out over a trash-strewn waterway.

Lu Guang and W. Eugene Smith
Guang was presented with the 2009 W. Eugene Smith Grant in Humanistic Photography at a ceremony Wednesday in New York City. Named for the Life magazine photojournalist, the Eugene Smith Fund has been supporting photographers -- including previous winners James Nachtwey and Sebastião Salgado -- for 30 years. The award comes with a grant of $30,000 that Guang says he will use to fund further travels for his "Pollution in China" project, saying he hopes to "shock authorities" about the environmental and human toll of China's growing industrial production. Some viewers of his work shared that wish.

"These photos immediately recall the Industrial Age photos (late 1800's) of Britain and America, especially the soot stained child workers," wrote Robo, a commenter on the Lens blog. "Hopefully, Mr. Lu is the Upton Sinclair for his homeland."

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