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Farmers' Photos in Focus

A special photo show featuring pictures taken by villagers in Yunnan Province who had never used a camera before opened at the Shanghai Grand Theater Monday.

Running through Friday, the exhibition showcases a series of stunning pictures of the southern province's natural scenery, people and way of life.

The show is part of "Photovoice," a project conducted by the Chinese government and the US-based Nature Conservancy, the world's largest non-governmental environmental protection organization.

Recognized as a global hotspot for biodiversity, Yunnan is home to 30 endangered animals and 450 bird species that are endemic to or migrate through it. The region also has a rich culture, as it is home to 15 ethnic groups.

The project aims to find important information about natural and cultural resource protection in Yunnan from each season of the calendar directly from these photos, sponsors said Monday.

Villagers there were given simple "point and shoot" cameras and a roll film per month to record and reflect their personal and community concerns.

"We wanted to view the region from the angle of local residents rather than outsiders," said Ann Mcbride Norton, capacity building consultant at the Nature Conservancy who has been living in Yunnan for 4 1/2 years.

She added "as many of the villagers can neither read or write, we chose a camera for them to speak. However, nearly 90 percent of them didn't know how to use the camera, we had to train them to grasp some basic shooting skills."

According to Norton, each month, after the photos were printed, villagers would participate in a group discussion, talking about stories and themes behind the pictures.

By using cameras and photos, they can produce visual community-based information to inform and influence important decision that directly affect their lives, Norton said.

The 68 photos on display in Shanghai were selected from 7,000 pictures taken by the villagers, according to project sponsors.

"Those photographs and stories will be presented to conservation planners and key officials in Yunnan later," said Norton, adding "some very important information villagers provided might have been ignored before."

She is working with scientists, economists and biologists to work out a blue-print to protect the region.

"We are happy to see villagers value their culture and traditions very much. We hope the photo show will let more people around the world know this magic place," said Norton.

(eastday.com September 2, 2003)

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