The Webs We Weave

By Sara Azeem, Editor-in-Chief of GLOBUS

I came across this photograph a while ago and was immediately struck by the intensity of the colours and the surreal energy it exuded. It took me a while to wrap my head around what it was – a boat colony in Yunan, China. But the more time I spent looking at it, the more interesting it became, and the more I saw. This photograph, to me, depicts a story of man and nature.

The Webs We Weave

At first glance, I saw
Particles, suspended in copper sulphate blue
Cyanobacteria, perhaps? Nostoc or anabaena

I looked harder, letting my mind stray away from the rewarding clutches of scientific inquiry 
Immediately, the agglomeration of bacteria morphed into fishermen’s canoes 
And the copper sulphate into an azure lake
It painted a scene of unparalleled beauty,
But beyond that,
Each boat represented a livelihood

A young boy rows into the fleet
And docks his little fishing boat next to his father’s
Two pieces in the collection of livelihoods
As the early morning sun peeks from under the clouds,
The boy picks up his cormorant with one arm
And wipes the sweat off his brows with the other as he swings his haul onto his shoulders
If he makes it to the market in time
He just might make enough to buy some medicine for his mother

The grunt of the cormorant brought him out his reverie 
Phalacrocorax carbo, used for millions of years by Chinese fishermen
The act of fishing became an art
Flawlessly complemented by the morphological advantages of the bird 

About a hundred yuan in hand,
The boy makes his way back to their tobacco farm, 
His mother’s illness plagues his thoughts
The neighbours say she is cursed
Green tobacco sickness 
A type of nicotine poisoning caused by dermal exposure to tobacco leaves, common among young inexperienced tobacco farmers

Maybe he would go hunting for mushrooms with his brothers and sisters today
Yunnan was famous for its matsutake
Their grandmother always says that that matsutake would help them live long and healthy lives
Tricholomo matsutake
An elusive edible fungus that has shown to possess anti-tumour and immunomodulation properties

Leaving the brilliant blue lake behind him, 
The boy traverses his way through the crevices in the mountains 
His life is woven into the threads of his province
All but merely a fragment of the chapters that make up the story of Yunnan

Nature is an amalgam of stories and theories
Art and folklore dovetails with science in immaculate harmony
The pattern made by the boats in the cerulean water is an ode to the beauty of community
A paean; 
To the web man weaves with nature

Yunnan is a province in southwestern China, one of the more poverty-stricken ones. Cormorant fishing, tobacco plantations, and mushroom picking, all play a part in the region’s economy and culture. This tale of a young boy unfolds with the age-old practice of cormorant fishing, bringing to the forefront the difficulties of making such a living, The deprivation is further accentuated by his mother’s sickness, which is a common affliction among those in the tobacco industry. Then the healing properties of the traditional practice of mushroom-picking are discussed. These portray the different relations man can have with nature; from symbiotic, to destructive, to advantageous. The story of this young boy in Yunnan is a reminder of the hidden details in a beautiful photograph, where hardship, tradition, and beauty, exist in consonance.

Header image by Lin Chen, 2018 Sony World Photography Awards

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