From 2004 to 2008, photographer Obitsu Fumio travelled around China’s Yunnan province. While based in Lijiang, Obitsu spent time researching, writing and taking a series of extraordinary photographs of Yunnan’s ethnic minorities.
Obitsu’s interest in Yunnan and the sartorial splendour of its cultural groups goes back to his primary school days in Japan, when his family went to a museum exhibition of Yunnan’s ethnic minorities and their living traditions.
Obitsu’s style is of particular interest. He’s almost minimalist in his approach. All the images are black and white, and all the subjects are young women. What is most noteworthy for me is that the tones and the shades of these black and white photographs are more evocative than any bright colour images.
Thus I am drawn to look deeper for contours, textures, shapes and shadows. Rather than seeing the colours, we have to imagine them. A picture tells a thousand words, most of all a black and white picture.
In other words, less is more.
In terms of its format, Portraits of Yunnan is straightforward enough. Two photographs are spread across two pages. One is of a young woman set against sweeping vistas. Opposite that is a landscape. Each photo is accompanied by a description of the cultural group, the location, together with the elevation at which the photograph was taken.
There are also brief stories about the women’s clothing and jewellery, the topography of the region, as well as its architecture.
Capturing the Timelessness of Yunnan’s Ethnic Minorities
While Obitsu does not say exactly when he took these photographs, we know that he did the work over a period of four years. Likewise, there is no mention of the names of the women. It seems like these omissions are intentional, giving the subjects a timelessness, and a focus on the present moment.
Portraits of Yunnan shines as a work of photographic art as a result of the skill and endeavour of its creator, and the dignity and generosity of his subjects.
Obitsu Fumio 大櫃史生 (b. 1979) is a photographer, teacher and landscape designer. He studied at the Tohoku University of Art and Design, graduating in 2001. He worked as a landscape and architectural designer in Tokyo at Studio on Site from 2001-2004. In September 2004, Fumio left Japan and spent the next five years doing fieldwork in Yunnan which eventually became Portraits of Yunnan (2012). Fumio continues to work as a landscape and architectural designer and also works at a primary school in Osaka. He lives in Kyoto.
Portraits of Yunnan by Obitsu Fumio, Yunnan Fine Arts Publishing House, 2012, text in Chinese, 195 pages.
Images courtesy of Obitsu Fumio