Synopsis of the photographic work
"Visions of Walabi" is the working title for a photographic project created by Josie Liming and Danny Gawlowski that depicts the Moso people of Walabi, a small mountain village in Southwest China. The project features two series of images. Color documentary images place the viewer alongside the Moso as they live their daily lives. Black-and-white portraits shot against a white background to remove the people from their surroundings, allowing viewers to focus on their humanity.
The images are meant to achieve several goals. On a broad level, they show the way that most people in China are living today. When most Westerners think of this nation, they see the rapidly growing metropolises of Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Yet about 50 percent of the population, more than 650 million people, are farmers, and 150 million Chinese live below international poverty lines. Despite rapid industrialization, the people of Walabi remind us of how so many people labor: with animal, muscle and sheer will, battling the elements to pull sustenance out of the land.
A rare cultural practice has brought both renown and persecution for the Moso: a matrilineal people, they engage in "walking marriages." Most men live with their mothers and sisters and care for their sisters' children. They visit their lovers only at night, quietly returning to their maternal home by morning. Because of misconceptions of promiscuity, many villages suffered greatly through the Cultural Revolution. In modern times, the area is called "The Women's Kingdom" in Chinese and is targeted by a growing sex trade. By painting a more complete picture of daily life in Walabi, these images aspire to move public discussion past sexual practices, while encouraging tourism that highlights other qualities that can benefit the region.
In this way this project seeks to paint a more honest portrait of the Moso people, who are still not formally recognized by the Chinese government. These images look beyond conventional images of the Moso to show who the people really are. No serious photographic collection concerning the Moso has been published since before World War II, in part because the area has been closed to foreigners until the past decade. This goal is particularly important as the Moso have long suffered from other people’s misconceptions.
Perhaps the project’s most important goal is its direct applicability: profits from the sale of these images will benefit the Moso Cultural Development Association. Although many Moso live in homes that have been in their families for more than 600 years and continue to live without running water or electricity, the world outside their villages is changing rapidly. A council of Moso leaders has formed to design programs that will secure their people's future without sacrificing the uniqueness of their communities. Already, looms have been purchased to give women an economic alternative to prostitution, and a language project has been started that preserves oral traditions by creating a written language. These and future programs require funding. This project hopes to redefine how photography can benefit this effort by financially assisting this association.
Selected images from this project are currently on display at two Beijing locations, will be represented in the 2006 Pinyao International Photography Festival in September, will be put on permanent display at the Moso Cultural Museum in Luoshui, Yunnan beginning this winter and were named as some of the top examples of women’s photojournalism by the National Press Photographer’s Association in 2006.
Due to deep, personal connections built while creating this project, Danny Gawlowski and Josie Liming are committed to maximizing the ways this project can benefit the Moso people. However, they know they can't succeed alone. Comments, critiques, ideas and recommendations are always welcome. Thank you.
To view the collection of photographs please visit: