Streets of China

Streets of China

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China is increasingly becoming a country of city dwellers. The United Nations said that its urban population more than doubled between 1980 and 2010, to reach almost 50 percent of China's population as a whole, and it is expected to continue growing rapidly in years to come. Out on the streets of the nation’s expanding cities, photographer David Gray searches out moments of colour in modern Chinese urban life.

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Slideshow

A woman walks down an alley in the centre of Beijing.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A woman walks down an alley in the centre of Beijing.

In a shot reminiscent of The Beatles' "Abbey Road" album cover, firefighters march in a line across the street in Tiananmen Square.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

In a shot reminiscent of The Beatles' "Abbey Road" album cover, firefighters march in a line across the street in Tiananmen Square.

On an autumn day in one of Beijing's parks, a cleaner catches sight of a man carrying a shark-shaped balloon.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

On an autumn day in one of Beijing's parks, a cleaner catches sight of a man carrying a shark-shaped balloon.

A woman chats on her mobile phone at sunset in the centre of the city.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A woman chats on her mobile phone at sunset in the centre of the city.

A security guard walks past eviction notices stuck to the outside wall of a house that is due to be demolished. The second notice to the right reads: "The sooner you sign the contract, the sooner you get peace of mind".
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A security guard walks past eviction notices stuck to the outside wall of a house that is due to be demolished. The second notice to the right reads: "The sooner you sign the contract, the sooner you get peace of mind".

A man paints part of the wall surrounding a village on the outskirts of Beijing.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A man paints part of the wall surrounding a village on the outskirts of Beijing.

One member of a group of women practicing morning exercises holds up a fan.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

One member of a group of women practicing morning exercises holds up a fan.

A handyman advertises his skills on the back of his motorcycle: he offers to fix fly screens and kitchen exhaust fans, and repair sliding windows.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A handyman advertises his skills on the back of his motorcycle: he offers to fix fly screens and kitchen exhaust fans, and repair sliding windows.

A shop assistant sleeps with his head in his lap next to wooden-framed glass containers at a market.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A shop assistant sleeps with his head in his lap next to wooden-framed glass containers at a market.

A worker rakes leaves in a park in central Beijing.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A worker rakes leaves in a park in central Beijing.

A man with his shoes off sits on a bench in Ritan Park.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A man with his shoes off sits on a bench in Ritan Park.

Someone walks through a cartoon-woman-shaped hole in the wall in a Beijing art district.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

Someone walks through a cartoon-woman-shaped hole in the wall in a Beijing art district.

A local stands outside the entrance to a small residential building in an alley in central Beijing.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A local stands outside the entrance to a small residential building in an alley in central Beijing.

A construction worker sits in the doorway of his temporary housing at a building site.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A construction worker sits in the doorway of his temporary housing at a building site.

A cleaner sleeps in a chair at Beijing West railway station.
. BEIJING, China. REUTERS/David Gray

A cleaner sleeps in a chair at Beijing West railway station.

Train passengers walk past homeless men sleeping at the central railway station in Zhengzhou.
. ZHENGZHOU, China. REUTERS/David Gray

Train passengers walk past homeless men sleeping at the central railway station in Zhengzhou.

"The old saying 'a smile goes a long way' is so very true."
David Gray, Reuters Photographer

Street photography in China is not difficult. In this country of 1.4 billion people, there are amazing scenes in every city, town and village. To record these scenes, to capture the precise moment that makes not just a nice picture, but a great picture, I believe street photography here falls into two categories.

The first category involves being fast. An interesting picture can jump out at you at any moment – something that has happened to me many times in China. I’ll be walking, riding my bicycle, or being driven along a road in Beijing, when I will see something that just pops right out of nowhere.

If I am quick enough to get the camera to my face and focus, then I might just manage to get it sharp and hopefully I will capture the image without the subject looking at me. Very rarely do I like a photograph when the subject is looking down my lens, because at that point I feel that I am changing, or somehow interfering, with the scene I am trying to record.

This can of course be extremely difficult in a country like China. As a foreigner, you tend to stand out in a crowd and draw attention to yourself. Put a camera in your hands, and that attention multiplies greatly.

The second category of street photography involves patience. When a particular scene looks like it may produce multiple pictures, rather than just a single frame, my way of trying to lessen the attention I attract is to be patient.

After a certain amount of time, the novelty wears off and people tend to finally stop staring and carry on with whatever they were doing before you arrived. If you remain quiet and unobtrusive while taking a keen interest in what they are doing, I have found that in most cases I am welcome to record their activities.

Creating a friendly atmosphere is also very important and the old saying “a smile goes a long way” is so very true. It always makes people more comfortable as you go about taking their picture.

I have been in China for over five years now, and I am always amazed at just how many stunning scenes I have come across that make wonderful photographs. As the country moves from a rural-based economy to a city-based, industrial one, the effect on people’s daily lives is dramatic.

With more and more people moving to cities every day, the subjects for great street photography are also increasing. So if you love photos of urban life, this is the place to come. And if you do make it to China and want to capture a nice image, just remember, be ready, be patient, and a great picture may be waiting for you just around that next corner.