Photography is the art of preserving what we do not want to forget. Through photography we can see the world both as it is, and discover new interpretations of that same reality.
Back in the days, when photos didn’t lie – when retouching and editing photos was non-existing – photography was something very special. People went to photostudios to have their pictures taken, put their precious photos in beautiful albums and sent copies of the best ones to friends and family.
Photography was also a new possibility for women to express themselves. My great grandmother Olga was one of those who took photography to her heart. I don’t think she reflected much upon it herself, but her photos are an amazing documentary record of what life was like at the time – in China.
She is certainly not your average holiday photographer. Of course, she takes the mandatory dressed-up photos with missionaries surrounded by students of the faith, prayer meetings, funerals and weddings.
But she also – and this I find important – takes those pictures that explain something about the reality of everyday life in this far-away-country.
She photographs means of transportation in China, people who are sick and people who are addicted to opium. She photographs Chinese boys who bring flowers in exchange for canned foods. She photographs people when they don’t know they’re being photographed.
I think she is kind of special in the way she sees the world – and perhaps in the way she wants to tell us about her world. She is a documentary photographer in the beginning of the 20th Century and she happens to be in a country where a lot is going on at the time. It’s a period of extreme turmoil and poverty is widely spread – especially in the regions where the missionaries are placed.
Her photos give me a sense of her as a person – that she was someone who genuinely cared for the people she met – in whatever shape or form. Her photos are taken with the gaze of someone who cares and not from an exotifying position. When she sends pictures to the mission’s magazine, she explains the ways they try to help the hard-working rural population with everything from food to clothes and medical care. And the work never ceases. The need for help is immense.
There are no doctors in the country side. Olga’s medical training in Scotland turned out to be the most valuable asset she brought to her work in China. And curing people from illness, helping them with food, clothes and education was an effective way to promote Christianity as well – of course…
I hope you enjoy the photos as much as I do ❤