Friday, April 30, 2010

Ryan Pyle Blog: The Shrinking Path


Well, it appears that being a photographer is actually as bleak as everyone says it is. Even house wives are able to earn an income from Getty Images. Read below. Time to dust off that degree in accounting.

Please follow this LINK to the original story.
The article is also posted below.
Copywrite: New York Times
March 29, 2010
For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path


By the time Matt Eich entered photojournalism school in 2004, the magazine and newspaper business was already declining.

But Mr. Eich had been shooting photographs since he was a child, and when he married and had a baby during college, he stuck with photography as a career.

“I had to hit the ground running and try to make enough money to keep a roof over our heads,” he said.

Since graduation in 2008, Mr. Eich, 23, has gotten magazine assignments here and there, but “industrywide, the sentiment now, at least among my peers, is that this is not a sustainable thing,” he said. He has been supplementing magazine work with advertising and art projects, in a pastiche of ways to earn a living. “There was a path, and there isn’t anymore.”

Then there is D. Sharon Pruitt, a 40-year-old mother of six who lives on Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Ms. Pruitt’s husband is in the military, and their frequent moves meant a full-time job was not practical. But after a vacation to Hawaii in 2006, Ms. Pruitt uploaded some photos — taken with a $99 Kodak digital camera — to the site Flickr.

Since then, through her Flickr photos, she has received a contract with the stock-photography company Getty Images that gives her a monthly income when publishers or advertisers license the images. The checks are sometimes enough to take the family out to dinner, sometimes almost enough for a mortgage payment. “At the moment, it’s just great to have extra money,” she said.

Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.

“There are very few professional photographers who, right now, are not hurting,” said Holly Stuart Hughes, editor of the magazine Photo District News.

That has left professional photographers with a bit of an identity crisis. Nine years ago, when Livia Corona was fresh out of art school, she got assignments from magazines like Travel and Leisure and Time. Then, she said, “three forces coincided.”

They were the advertising downturn, the popularity and accessibility of digital photography, and changes in the stock-photo market.

Magazines’ editorial pages tend to rise or fall depending on how many ad pages they have. In 2000, the magazines measured by Publishers Information Bureau, a trade group, had 286,932 ad pages. In 2009, there were 169,218 — a decline of 41 percent. That means less physical space in which to print photographs.

“Pages are at a premium, and there’s more competition to get anything into a magazine now, and the bar is just higher for excellent work,” said Bill Shapiro, the editor of, who ran the print revival of Life before Time Inc. shut it in 2007. And that is for the publications that survived — 428 magazines closed in 2009 alone, according to the publication database, including ones that regularly assigned original photography, like Gourmet, Portfolio and National Geographic Adventure.

And while magazines once sniffed at stock photographs, which are existing images, not original assignments, shrinking editorial budgets made them reconsider.

“When we began, stock photography or licensed images, preshot images being licensed, was perceived as the armpit of the photo industry,” said Jonathan Klein, the chief executive of Getty Images who helped found the agency in 1995. “No self-respecting art director or creative director would use a preshot image, because it wasn’t original, it hadn’t been commissioned by them, it wasn’t their creativity.”

At the same time, the Internet has made it easier for editors to find and license stock photos — they can do it in seconds with a search term and a few clicks, rather than spending seven weeks mailing film transparencies back and forth.

Concurrently, digital photography took off. “It used to be you really needed to know how to use a camera,” said Keith Marlowe, a photographer who has worked for Spin and Rolling Stone. “If you messed up a roll, you couldn’t redo the concert.” Now, though, any photographer can instantly see if a shot is good, or whether the light balances or other technical aspects need to be adjusted.

That meant a flood of pretty decent photographs, and that changed the stock-photography industry. In the last few years, stock agencies have created or acquired so-called microstock divisions. They charge $1 to $100, in most cases, for publishers or others to rerun a photo, often supplied by an amateur. And Getty made a deal with Flickr in 2008, permitting Getty’s photo editors to comb through customers’ images and strike license agreements with the amateur photographers.

“The quality of licensed imagery is virtually indistinguishable now from the quality of images they might commission,” Mr. Klein said. Yet “the price point that the client, or customer, is charged is a fraction of the price point which they would pay for a professional image.”

In 2005, Getty Images licensed 1.4 million preshot commercial photos. Last year, it licensed 22 million — and “all of the growth was through our user-generated business,” Mr. Klein said. That is because amateurs are largely happy to be paid anything for their photos. “People that don’t have to make a living from photography and do it as a hobby don’t feel the need to charge a reasonable rate,” Mr. Eich said.

With stock-photography payments declining and magazines pulling back on original assignments, some Web sites like and have popped up as homes for original photography. Life commissions about two projects a month — it sent Mr. Marlowe to Haiti after the earthquake, for instance, and the entertainment photographer Jeff Vespa to cover the European news media tour by the “Avatar” cast.

There seems to be an audience for professional photography on these sites. The average number of photos each visitor viewed for “Michael Jackson: The Memorial” at was 41, for example, and for “Oscars 2010: The Best Dresses,” it was 38 images.

Still, the pay, compared with print, is “less, for sure,” Mr. Shapiro of said, since some professional photographers “are really more excited for the exposure than they are to drive a hard bargain.”

But it is hard to live on exposure alone. And some professionals worry that with ways to make a salary in photography disappearing, the impact will be severe.

“The important thing that a photojournalist does is they know how to tell the story — they know they’re not there to skew, interpret or bias,” said Katrin Eismann, chairwoman of the Masters in Digital Photography program at the School of Visual Arts in New York. “A photographer can go to a rally or demonstration, and they can make it look as though 10 people showed up, or 1,000 people showed up, and that’s a big difference. I’m not sure I’m going to trust an amateur to understand how important that visual communication is. Can an amateur take a picture as good as a professional? Sure,” Ms. Eismann said. “Can they do it on demand? Can they do it again? Can they do it over and over? Can they do it when a scene isn’t that interesting?”

But amateurs like Ms. Pruitt do not particularly care. “I never followed any traditional photography rules only because I didn’t know of any — I never went to photography school, never took any classes,” she said. “People don’t know the rules, so they just shoot what they like — and other people like it, too.”

Ryan Pyle

Friday, April 23, 2010

Ryan Pyle Blog: Where are all the Girls?


China, and most poor agrarian countries, have a problem with baby girls. It seems that on almost every level they are not desired. The impression is that they can’t work as hard in the fields and once they are of marrying age they’ll be gone and working for another family, so what use are they? Well, actually they are incredibly useful and China is slowly waking up to this fact.

According to the Economist, a few weeks back, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) showed what can happen in a country with too few baby girls. Within ten years, the CASS reported, there will be one in five young men who will be unable to find a bride. This is apparently unprecedented for a country that is not at war.
China, by 2020, will have some 30 or 40 million more men than women. This group of Chinese bachelors, known as “bare branches”, seemed to actually accelerate from 1990 to 2005, and in ways not directly related to the “One Child Policy” which was introduced in 1979. The real reasons behind this male preference are not entirely understood but poverty and ignorance do play their part, so do prenatal sex-determination technology and the general decline in fertility.

While under natural circumstances the average birth ratio is roughly 104 boys for every 100 girls born. In China, from 2000 to 2004, the number is a sky-high 124 boys for every 100 girls. And even today in 2010 the number stands at 123 boys for every 100 girls. While the numbers for China that are quoted here are “national level” statistics, provinces in China contain wild variations. For example, Tibet has what would be considered a natural birth rate of about 104 boys to every 100 girls, but some of the more rural and backwards provinces have birth statistics as high as 130 boys for every 100 girls.

So what does all this mean for China? Well, having lots of energetic young men around without much work and without a woman to keep them tame is one of the telling influences for many of the world’s social revolutions; so yes, political instability could be a potential outcome. Increased crime rates and the deterioration of traditional family values could also be possible side effects; as well as the proliferation of prostitution and brothels. Fulfilling the needs of these young “bare branches” will be an economic opportunity that surely won’t be missed by those who practice the world’s oldest profession.

The original story is posted below:
Please follow this LINK to the original online version.
The worldwide war on baby girls
Mar 4th 2010

XINRAN XUE, a Chinese writer, describes visiting a peasant family in the Yimeng area of Shandong province. The wife was giving birth. “We had scarcely sat down in the kitchen”, she writes (see article), “when we heard a moan of pain from the bedroom next door…The cries from the inner room grew louder—and abruptly stopped. There was a low sob, and then a man’s gruff voice said accusingly: ‘Useless thing!’

“Suddenly, I thought I heard a slight movement in the slops pail behind me,” Miss Xinran remembers. “To my absolute horror, I saw a tiny foot poking out of the pail. The midwife must have dropped that tiny baby alive into the slops pail! I nearly threw myself at it, but the two policemen [who had accompanied me] held my shoulders in a firm grip. ‘Don’t move, you can’t save it, it’s too late.’

“‘But that’s...murder...and you’re the police!’ The little foot was still now. The policemen held on to me for a few more minutes. ‘Doing a baby girl is not a big thing around here,’ [an] older woman said comfortingly. ‘That’s a living child,’ I said in a shaking voice, pointing at the slops pail. ‘It’s not a child,’ she corrected me. ‘It’s a girl baby, and we can’t keep it. Around these parts, you can’t get by without a son. Girl babies don’t count.’”

In January 2010 the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) showed what can happen to a country when girl babies don’t count. Within ten years, the academy said, one in five young men would be unable to find a bride because of the dearth of young women—a figure unprecedented in a country at peace.

The number is based on the sexual discrepancy among people aged 19 and below. According to CASS, China in 2020 will have 30m-40m more men of this age than young women. For comparison, there are 23m boys below the age of 20 in Germany, France and Britain combined and around 40m American boys and young men. So within ten years, China faces the prospect of having the equivalent of the whole young male population of America, or almost twice that of Europe’s three largest countries, with little prospect of marriage, untethered to a home of their own and without the stake in society that marriage and children provide.

Gendercide—to borrow the title of a 1985 book by Mary Anne Warren—is often seen as an unintended consequence of China’s one-child policy, or as a product of poverty or ignorance. But that cannot be the whole story. The surplus of bachelors—called in China guanggun, or “bare branches”— seems to have accelerated between 1990 and 2005, in ways not obviously linked to the one-child policy, which was introduced in 1979. And, as is becoming clear, the war against baby girls is not confined to China.

Parts of India have sex ratios as skewed as anything in its northern neighbour. Other East Asian countries—South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan—have peculiarly high numbers of male births. So, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, have former communist countries in the Caucasus and the western Balkans. Even subsets of America’s population are following suit, though not the population as a whole.

The real cause, argues Nick Eberstadt, a demographer at the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC, is not any country’s particular policy but “the fateful collision between overweening son preference, the use of rapidly spreading prenatal sex-determination technology and declining fertility.” These are global trends. And the selective destruction of baby girls is global, too.

Boys are slightly more likely to die in infancy than girls. To compensate, more boys are born than girls so there will be equal numbers of young men and women at puberty. In all societies that record births, between 103 and 106 boys are normally born for every 100 girls. The ratio has been so stable over time that it appears to be the natural order of things.

That order has changed fundamentally in the past 25 years. In China the sex ratio for the generation born between 1985 and 1989 was 108, already just outside the natural range. For the generation born in 2000-04, it was 124 (ie, 124 boys were born in those years for every 100 girls). According to CASS the ratio today is 123 boys per 100 girls. These rates are biologically impossible without human intervention.

The national averages hide astonishing figures at the provincial level. According to an analysis of Chinese household data carried out in late 2005 and reported in the British Medical Journal*, only one region, Tibet, has a sex ratio within the bounds of nature. Fourteen provinces—mostly in the east and south—have sex ratios at birth of 120 and above, and three have unprecedented levels of more than 130. As CASS says, “the gender imbalance has been growing wider year after year.”

The BMJ study also casts light on one of the puzzles about China’s sexual imbalance. How far has it been exaggerated by the presumed practice of not reporting the birth of baby daughters in the hope of getting another shot at bearing a son? Not much, the authors think. If this explanation were correct, you would expect to find sex ratios falling precipitously as girls who had been hidden at birth start entering the official registers on attending school or the doctor. In fact, there is no such fall. The sex ratio of 15-year-olds in 2005 was not far from the sex ratio at birth in 1990. The implication is that sex-selective abortion, not under-registration of girls, accounts for the excess of boys.

Other countries have wildly skewed sex ratios without China’s draconian population controls (see chart 1). Taiwan’s sex ratio also rose from just above normal in 1980 to 110 in the early 1990s; it remains just below that level today. During the same period, South Korea’s sex ratio rose from just above normal to 117 in 1990—then the highest in the world—before falling back to more natural levels. Both these countries were already rich, growing quickly and becoming more highly educated even while the balance between the sexes was swinging sharply towards males.

South Korea is experiencing some surprising consequences. The surplus of bachelors in a rich country has sucked in brides from abroad. In 2008, 11% of marriages were “mixed”, mostly between a Korean man and a foreign woman. This is causing tensions in a hitherto homogenous society, which is often hostile to the children of mixed marriages. The trend is especially marked in rural areas, where the government thinks half the children of farm households will be mixed by 2020. The children are common enough to have produced a new word: “Kosians”, or Korean-Asians.

China is nominally a communist country, but elsewhere it was communism’s collapse that was associated with the growth of sexual disparities. After the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, there was an upsurge in the ratio of boys to girls in Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia. Their sex ratios rose from normal levels in 1991 to 115-120 by 2000. A rise also occurred in several Balkan states after the wars of Yugoslav succession. The ratio in Serbia and Macedonia is around 108. There are even signs of distorted sex ratios in America, among various groups of Asian-Americans. In 1975, calculates Mr Eberstadt, the sex ratio for Chinese-, Japanese- and Filipino-Americans was between 100 and 106. In 2002, it was 107 to 109.

But the country with the most remarkable record is that other supergiant, India. India does not produce figures for sex ratios at birth, so its numbers are not strictly comparable with the others. But there is no doubt that the number of boys has been rising relative to girls and that, as in China, there are large regional disparities. The north-western states of Punjab and Haryana have sex ratios as high as the provinces of China’s east and south. Nationally, the ratio for children up to six years of age rose from a biologically unexceptionable 104 in 1981 to a biologically impossible 108 in 2001. In 1991, there was a single district with a sex ratio over 125; by 2001, there were 46.

Conventional wisdom about such disparities is that they are the result of “backward thinking” in old-fashioned societies or—in China—of the one-child policy. By implication, reforming the policy or modernising the society (by, for example, enhancing the status of women) should bring the sex ratio back to normal. But this is not always true and, where it is, the road to normal sex ratios is winding and bumpy.

Not all traditional societies show a marked preference for sons over daughters. But in those that do—especially those in which the family line passes through the son and in which he is supposed to look after his parents in old age—a son is worth more than a daughter. A girl is deemed to have joined her husband’s family on marriage, and is lost to her parents. As a Hindu saying puts it, “Raising a daughter is like watering your neighbours’ garden.”

“Son preference” is discernible—overwhelming, even—in polling evidence. In 1999 the government of India asked women what sex they wanted their next child to be. One third of those without children said a son, two-thirds had no preference and only a residual said a daughter. Polls carried out in Pakistan and Yemen show similar results. Mothers in some developing countries say they want sons, not daughters, by margins of ten to one. In China midwives charge more for delivering a son than a daughter.

Chasing puppy-dogs’ tails
The unusual thing about son preference is that it rises sharply at second and later births (see chart 2). Among Indian women with two children (of either sex), 60% said they wanted a son next time, almost twice the preference for first-borns. This reflected the desire of those with two daughters for a son. The share rose to 75% for those with three children. The difference in parental attitudes between first-borns and subsequent children is large and significant.

Until the 1980s people in poor countries could do little about this preference: before birth, nature took its course. But in that decade, ultrasound scanning and other methods of detecting the sex of a child before birth began to make their appearance. These technologies changed everything. Doctors in India started advertising ultrasound scans with the slogan “Pay 5,000 rupees ($110) today and save 50,000 rupees tomorrow” (the saving was on the cost of a daughter’s dowry). Parents who wanted a son, but balked at killing baby daughters, chose abortion in their millions.

The use of sex-selective abortion was banned in India in 1994 and in China in 1995. It is illegal in most countries (though Sweden legalised the practice in 2009). But since it is almost impossible to prove that an abortion has been carried out for reasons of sex selection, the practice remains widespread. An ultrasound scan costs about $12, which is within the scope of many—perhaps most—Chinese and Indian families. In one hospital in Punjab, in northern India, the only girls born after a round of ultrasound scans had been mistakenly identified as boys, or else had a male twin.

The spread of fetal-imaging technology has not only skewed the sex ratio but also explains what would otherwise be something of a puzzle: sexual disparities tend to rise with income and education, which you would not expect if “backward thinking” was all that mattered. In India, some of the most prosperous states—Maharashtra, Punjab, Gujarat—have the worst sex ratios. In China, the higher a province’s literacy rate, the more skewed its sex ratio. The ratio also rises with income per head.

In Punjab Monica Das Gupta of the World Bank discovered that second and third daughters of well-educated mothers were more than twice as likely to die before their fifth birthday as their brothers, regardless of their birth order. The discrepancy was far lower in poorer households. Ms Das Gupta argues that women do not necessarily use improvements in education and income to help daughters. Richer, well-educated families share their poorer neighbours’ preference for sons and, because they tend to have smaller families, come under greater pressure to produce a son and heir if their first child is an unlooked-for daughter**.

So modernisation and rising incomes make it easier and more desirable to select the sex of your children. And on top of that smaller families combine with greater wealth to reinforce the imperative to produce a son. When families are large, at least one male child will doubtless come along to maintain the family line. But if you have only one or two children, the birth of a daughter may be at a son’s expense. So, with rising incomes and falling fertility, more and more people live in the smaller, richer families that are under the most pressure to produce a son.

In China the one-child policy increases that pressure further. Unexpectedly, though, it is the relaxation of the policy, rather than the policy pure and simple, which explains the unnatural upsurge in the number of boys.

In most Chinese cities couples are usually allowed to have only one child—the policy in its pure form. But in the countryside, where 55% of China’s population lives, there are three variants of the one-child policy. In the coastal provinces some 40% of couples are permitted a second child if their first is a girl. In central and southern provinces everyone is permitted a second child either if the first is a girl or if the parents suffer “hardship”, a criterion determined by local officials. In the far west and Inner Mongolia, the provinces do not really operate a one-child policy at all. Minorities are permitted second—sometimes even third—children, whatever the sex of the first-born (see map).

The provinces in this last group are the only ones with close to normal sex ratios. They are sparsely populated and inhabited by ethnic groups that do not much like abortion and whose family systems do not disparage the value of daughters so much. The provinces with by far the highest ratios of boys to girls are in the second group, the ones with the most exceptions to the one-child policy. As the BMJ study shows, these exceptions matter because of the preference for sons in second or third births.

For an example, take Guangdong, China’s most populous province. Its overall sex ratio is 120, which is very high. But if you take first births alone, the ratio is “only” 108. That is outside the bounds of normality but not by much. If you take just second children, however, which are permitted in the province, the ratio leaps to 146 boys for every 100 girls. And for the relatively few births where parents are permitted a third child, the sex ratio is 167. Even this startling ratio is not the outer limit. In Anhui province, among third children, there are 227 boys for every 100 girls, while in Beijing municipality (which also permits exceptions in rural areas), the sex ratio reaches a hard-to-credit 275. There are almost three baby boys for each baby girl.

Ms Das Gupta found something similar in India. First-born daughters were treated the same as their brothers; younger sisters were more likely to die in infancy. The rule seems to be that parents will joyfully embrace a daughter as their first child. But they will go to extraordinary lengths to ensure subsequent children are sons.

The hazards of bare branches
Throughout human history, young men have been responsible for the vast preponderance of crime and violence—especially single men in countries where status and social acceptance depend on being married and having children, as it does in China and India. A rising population of frustrated single men spells trouble.

The crime rate has almost doubled in China during the past 20 years of rising sex ratios, with stories abounding of bride abduction, the trafficking of women, rape and prostitution. A study into whether these things were connected† concluded that they were, and that higher sex ratios accounted for about one-seventh of the rise in crime. In India, too, there is a correlation between provincial crime rates and sex ratios. In “Bare Branches”††, Valerie Hudson and Andrea den Boer gave warning that the social problems of biased sex ratios would lead to more authoritarian policing. Governments, they say, “must decrease the threat to society posed by these young men. Increased authoritarianism in an effort to crack down on crime, gangs, smuggling and so forth can be one result.”

Violence is not the only consequence. In parts of India, the cost of dowries is said to have fallen (see article). Where people pay a bride price (ie, the groom’s family gives money to the bride’s), that price has risen. During the 1990s, China saw the appearance of tens of thousands of “extra-birth guerrilla troops”—couples from one-child areas who live in a legal limbo, shifting restlessly from city to city in order to shield their two or three children from the authorities’ baleful eye. And, according to the World Health Organisation, female suicide rates in China are among the highest in the world (as are South Korea’s). Suicide is the commonest form of death among Chinese rural women aged 15-34; young mothers kill themselves by drinking agricultural fertilisers, which are easy to come by. The journalist Xinran Xue thinks they cannot live with the knowledge that they have aborted or killed their baby daughters.

Some of the consequences of the skewed sex ratio have been unexpected. It has probably increased China’s savings rate. This is because parents with a single son save to increase his chances of attracting a wife in China’s ultra-competitive marriage market. Shang-Jin Wei of Columbia University and Xiaobo Zhang of the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, DC, compared savings rates for households with sons versus those with daughters. “We find not only that households with sons save more than households with daughters in all regions,” says Mr Wei, “but that households with sons tend to raise their savings rate if they also happen to live in a region with a more skewed sex ratio.” They calculate that about half the increase in China’s savings in the past 25 years can be attributed to the rise in the sex ratio. If true, this would suggest that economic-policy changes to boost consumption will be less effective than the government hopes.

Over the next generation, many of the problems associated with sex selection will get worse. The social consequences will become more evident because the boys born in large numbers over the past decade will reach maturity then. Meanwhile, the practice of sex selection itself may spread because fertility rates are continuing to fall and ultrasound scanners reach throughout the developing world.

Yet the story of the destruction of baby girls does not end in deepest gloom. At least one country—South Korea—has reversed its cultural preference for sons and cut the distorted sex ratio (see chart 3). There are reasons for thinking China and India might follow suit.

South Korea was the first country to report exceptionally high sex ratios and has been the first to cut them. Between 1985 and 2003, the share of South Korean women who told national health surveyors that they felt “they must have a son” fell by almost two-thirds, from 48% to 17%. After a lag of a decade, the sex ratio began to fall in the mid-1990s and is now 110 to 100. Ms Das Gupta argues that though it takes a long time for social norms favouring sons to alter, and though the transition can be delayed by the introduction of ultrasound scans, eventually change will come. Modernisation not only makes it easier for parents to control the sex of their children, it also changes people’s values and undermines those norms which set a higher store on sons. At some point, one trend becomes more important than the other.

It is just possible that China and India may be reaching that point now. The census of 2000 and the CASS study both showed the sex ratio stable at around 120. At the very least, it seems to have stopped rising. Locally, Ms Das Gupta argues†††, the provinces which had the highest sex ratios (and have two-thirds of China’s population) have seen a deceleration in their ratios since 2000, and provinces with a quarter of the population have seen their ratios fall. In India, one study found that the cultural preference for sons has been falling, too, and that the sex ratio, as in much of China, is rising more slowly. In villages in Haryana, grandmothers sit veiled and silent while men are present. But their daughters sit and chat uncovered because, they say, they have seen unveiled women at work or on television so much that at last it seems normal to them.

Ms Das Gupta points out that, though the two giants are much poorer than South Korea, their governments are doing more than it ever did to persuade people to treat girls equally (through anti-discrimination laws and media campaigns). The unintended consequences of sex selection have been vast. They may get worse. But, at long last, she reckons, “there seems to be an incipient turnaround in the phenomenon of ‘missing girls’ in Asia.”
Ryan Pyle

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ryan Pyle Blog: Looking back on Columbia University


Last month I was in New York City for a brief visit and I had the chance to speak at Columbia University. The talk was hosted under the Asia Pacific Studies Department and the topic was essentially how I saw political change in China coming about, and what factors may speed up the process. As a photographer who is constantly on the go I feel I have a unique vision and understanding as to some growing pains China is going through.

It's a lecture I had given before, but this time it was different.

This time my talk was a truly unique experience because longtime friend and colleague Howard W. French was present, and not only provided me with a wonderful introduction, but assisted in dealing with many of the complex issues dealt with during the questions and answers.

It was a treat to be able to converse with students and facility, and it was great to be able to agree and disagree with Howard. After Howard basically gave me my first photojournalism job about six years ago we've traveled together what seems like hundreds of times and it was the first time we've been able to discuss our points of view about China in an academic environment.

For those who don't know Howard left the New York Times for an academic position at Columbia University two years ago, he continues to be an active freelance writer and is continuing work on several book projects.

My hope is that I can continue to be active in the academic community and continue to share my perspective and ideas about China's growth and ever changing landscape. Hopefully I can make the journey to Columbia University a regular feature on my stops to New York.

Ryan Pyle

Friday, April 09, 2010

Ryan Pyle Blog: A Rural Population of 400 million


I live in a mega city; the name of that city is Shanghai. I love my massive city, which is said to be currently bursting at the seams with a population of roughly 20 million people. Whiles the crowds can be intense, I somehow manage to thrive off the energy of the masses. But what will the next 30 years hold?

Whenever I complete a trip in to rural China I am always amazed at how little is there, about how few opportunities exist. While roads and bridges are constantly being build and infrastructure spending is at an all-time high, there are still round 900 million rural residents in China who do very little other than farm, manage a market stall or are involved in basic irregular business. Many of these folks often hold ambitions of moving to the big cities of China, for a chance at a better life, earning a higher wage and having their children attend better schools. So an obvious question looms, how many people can China’s cities really hold?

Can Shanghai really be a functional city with 30 or 40 million residents? Can Beijing’s ill-prepared roads and highway system really handle another one or two million cars? The numbers, once crunched are staggering; and a little scary.

A few weeks back the China Daily, of all sources, ran a story that made me physically shudder. The government of China has predicted that China’s rural population could fall to just 400 million people from its current 900 million. The last 30 years provide most of the proof for this trend of urbanization; you see some 400 million people have moved from the countryside to the cities over the last three decades. So the prediction is that by 2040 there will be another 400 or 500 million people living in China’s cities; that’s an unbelievable figure.

Right or wrong, I am a believer. I strongly believe that China’s urban population will double rapidly increase in the next two or three decades; one only has to visit rural Anhui, Hebei, Henan and Shandong to see how few options exist for those who have chosen to stay closer to home during this current economic boom. As China, over the next 3-5 years eases restrictions on migrant workers and urban registration you could see a flood of people move to the cities, crowding in for better health care and educational services. At the moment the restrictive and complicated Hukou “home registration” system links people to their place of birth, which is often different than where they currently live; and many social benefits can only be claimed in your “home registration” area. This has not restricted the most daring of China’s migrant labor class, but my guess is that once these restrictions are lifted for good, and there is talk of this happening – there will be a biblical flood of people in to urban centers to take advantage of higher living, and service, standards.

So how many of that 500 million will end up in cities like Shanghai? How much more traffic will I have to fight through on my grocery shopping trips? How much longer could the line up get at the bank? My guess is not too many. While 500 million is a large number, my estimate is that Shanghai might double its urban population and become a mega city of 40 million residents. From what I can see at the moment, the creation of suburbs and transportation infrastructure to move people in and out of the city center has hit overdrive. The government is in a real rush to put these pieces in place before Shanghai just becomes a hot and crowded mess.

The real winners in this mass migration, however, will be second tier cities like Hefei, Wuhan, Chongqing, Chengdu, Kunming, Guiyang, Nanning, Xi’an, Dalian, Harbin and other notable provincial capitals. They will, under decent guidance, become more livable and offer better services as their population rises; at least that’s the great hope. Fingers crossed that actually happens or the resulting civil unrest could be a large destabilizing factor to the economy and general political stability. Either way, mass migrations or not, it’ll be an exciting process to watch unfold. I’m very glad I bought my ticket early; I’ve got a front row seat.
The China Daily story is posted below in its original form.

China Daily story LINK:
Copy write: China Daily
Rural population could drop to 400m
February 25, 2010

The country's rural population may drop to 400 million from the current 900 million in the next three decades because of rising urbanization, a senior official has forecast.

The rural population currently stands at 720 million, the latest population figures have shown. But the number does not include the 180 million rural residents who have left their hometowns to live in cities for more than half a year, Han Jun, a senior official at the State Council Development Research Center, was quoted as saying by Beijing News.

In the past 30 years, the urban population has increased by 400 million to hit 600 million. Of these people, 27 percent now live in cities but are not permanent residents.

"Currently, one in four residents in the cities come from the rural population. The current movement of labor from rural to urban areas is expected to continue in the future," Han said.

The country has about 240 million migrant workers, with about half of them born after 1980 and 40 million of them born in the 1990s, the latest official statistics show.

"Young migrant workers are reluctant to go back to the countryside and are eager to be new residents in cities," Han said.

A major policy document released last month addressed the young as "a new generation of migrant workers" for the first time and made it clear that the government is "striving for substantial reform of the household registration system" to help them to register in cities where they can then receive more social benefits.

"Hundreds of millions of farmers are now working for the development of cities and contribute a great deal to tax revenues where they live. However, they cannot enjoy the public services offered in cities. It is not fair," said Zhang Hulin, a professor with the Party School of the Central Committee of the CPC.

New-generation migrant workers mostly live in cities and work as security guards, waiters, construction and decoration laborers, and deliverymen.

"More and more citizens have felt the importance of migrant workers to their daily life. But low wages have also made many migrant workers unwilling to stay and work, especially in big cities," Zhang told China Daily yesterday.

So far, 13 provinces and cities such as Hebei and Liaoning have already piloted a unified household registration in rural and urban areas. But many say the reform falls short of offering benefits in education, housing and social security to the new population, Han said.

Ryan Pyle

Friday, April 02, 2010

Ryan Pyle Blog: Multimedia Blog for Resolve


Throughout the recent digital revolution in photography, I have continued to shoot film, but there is one area where I have happily adopted new lightweight digital capture -- audio. With the technology jumping leaps and bounds, audio that previously required large, complex recorders can now be captured on small digital recorders, perfect for the kind of multimedia storytelling that I've been exploring.

I’ve been intrigued with the advance of multimedia in the last few year, and especially how it can be used to enhance the art of story telling. I have a deep respect for still photographers moving into video -- like Tim Hetherington and his award-winning documentary Restrepo -- but I'm not ready to turn in my viewfinder for a video camera yet. What feels right to me right now is the multimedia slideshow.

You see, I love to write and I enjoy the process of preparing a script to accompany imagery. The multimedia slideshow allows me to go one step beyond the still image, with regards to story telling, but still aligns with my belief that still images are more powerful than moving ones.

My first dabble in multimedia I decided to create a slidewho of my black-and-white fine-art project on Chinese Turkestan in an attempt to reach a wider audience (above). In my visits to the region, several times a year for the last several years, I began recording audio with a small handheld recorder. For the slideshow's audio I used a "Call to Prayer", essentially a man who stands on the top of the mosque and calls everyone to come and pray several times per day. It is something I hear all the time while working in the region and I thought it was fitting.

My goal here was never to produce a “news” piece or include various clips of audio with fuller story telling. I wanted to create a space for the viewer to fully experience the still image. For that reason, the sequencing was incredibly important, and difficult. I payed particular attention to composition and flow, and I'm still working on it, since the project itself is not yet complete.

One of the exciting things about this first foray into multimedia is starting to think about how this slide show can support the still images in terms of publicity and marketing. For instance, I integrated the slideshow into my presentations at a few universities and galleries during a recent trip to the U.S. I was very pleased with both the impact of the slideshow and the feedback I received. Remembering that the end goal is to have my images reach the widest possible audience, I believe an audio slideshow contribute to that in many ways.

I have several more videos currently in production, including ones with a narrative as well as more audio from locations. You can follow the process on my blog.

Ryan Pyle