AFP’s Chilean professional photographer Hector Retamal, based in Shanghai, has actually been named news company professional photographer of the year by The Guardian for work including his reporting on the ordeal of individuals in Wuhan, the city where the Covid-19 pandemic started.
Here he recounts his experiences, as published previously on AFP’s blog:
I had been to Wuhan when before the infection, to cover a basketball video game. It seemed enormous. Eleven million individuals live there– that’s more than Mexico City, New York or Paris.
I had relatives from Chile– my mom, my cousin and her future husband– visiting me in Shanghai when I first heard about the infection in mid-January. I felt a bit anxious. At first my main issue was whether they would be able to leave China to get house.
Then the masks began appearing in the street. Within a couple of days, I could notice that it was a huge story.
The Red Cross health center in Wuhan in January AFP/ Hector RETAMAL
I headed to the train station to go to Wuhan. My employers phoned to discuss their concerns about the mission. I insisted on going. I advised them that I had currently covered a cholera epidemic in Haiti.
I really comprehended the seriousness of the situation when the high-speed train got here after four hours in Wuhan.
Barely anybody left there.
I did, and stepped out into a ghost town. Fear had actually gripped Wuhan’s inhabitants. Policeman informed me and my associates to go back to our hotel.
” It is dangerous to stay in the street,” they stated.
There was fear in the air. I saw people stopped talking in their homes, peering out of their windows. In 2 hours walking around the city I must have seen only about 4 or 5 other people outdoors.
But the shock really came when we went to visit the health centers.
The lifeless body of a man pushing the street, not far from Wuhan medical facility AFP/ Hector RETAMAL
People were queuing within, some resting on stools. What was much more uncommon was that people came near me and took my arm, asking me to come in and see.
They wished to reveal me what was happening. That doesn’t usually happen in China.
I was reluctant to follow them in case the security guards saw me and called the authorities. However I went inside anyhow, and then I saw how tough the situation was. The healthcare facilities were clearly overloaded.
A woman beside me vomited. Other people were coughing. They were not using masks. Others were waiting in the corridor with drips in their arms. Brand-new clients with breathing difficulties kept getting here for the emergency room.
Then I took this photo.
We never ever found out what this guy passed away of, though we tried.
The old male’s body lay on the ground for hours prior to individuals pertained to take it away. The image of the body and the agitation around it came to symbolise the Covid-19 crisis.
The return of dancers to Wuhan in April AFP/ Hector RETAMAL
After 2 weeks as one of the few foreign media outlets in Wuhan, we flew out of the city on board a French medical evacuation plane on January 31 bound for Marseille.
We spent two weeks in quarantine in France before returning to Asia later on in February. We wrote about our experience on this blog.
I returned to Shanghai on February 24. I remained in a hotel for 2 days while I found out what the scenario remained in the building where I live and whether I would have to go into quarantine again.
Thankfully I did not. When I returned to my building, I was questioned by members of a regional “neighbourhood committee”. I had my temperature inspected every day.
I returned to Wuhan in late March, just after the city ended its mass lockdown.
Fear gripped Wuhan’s inhabitants AFP/ Hector RETAMAL
Some individuals were still stopped talking in the house: they did not yet dare to venture out. I saw people passing them food through the security barriers. But little by little, life was returning to regular.
Wuhan is a substantial city but individuals there get along. People kept coming near me and asking what I was doing there.
This was when I fulfilled the very first group of dancers.
Wuhan is a city at a crossroads in the heart of Hubei province. It connects the east of China to the west, and the north to the south. It is watered by the excellent Yangtze river, midway in between Beijing and Guangzhou in the south.
Wuhan is a fairly rich city.
There are lots of scientific research centres and labs. There are mining companies, cars and truck factories, steel, fabrics.
It is also a big farming center: cotton, cereals, fish-farming. Hubei is referred to as the “land of fish and rice”, in the shadow of the great Three Gorges Dam.
Individuals in Wuhan would turn up and ask what I was doing there, states AFP professional photographer Hector Retamal, who has actually been called news firm photographer of the year by The Guardian AFP/ Hector RETAMAL
The best place to go is the banks of the river. The life of the city seems constructed around them.
I went there frequently. I took photos of young couples, individuals swimming, dancing. I met some of the very same individuals again when I returned throughout the year.
I made pals with some of individuals I satisfied on the riverbanks. Initially, there were simply a handful of them.
The city likewise has lots of parks where individuals like to go to work out and dance.
For me, Wuhan resembles a smaller variation of Shanghai– modern, beside a river– but even more friendly.
In Shanghai, some individuals are afraid that immigrants may be carrying the virus.
The very best place to go is the banks of the river, says AFP’s Guardian agency photographer of the year AFP/ Hector RETAMAL
In some cases when I take an elevator people do not want to ingratiate me. However that never ever occurred to me in Wuhan. People there welcome me. They come and speak to me and ask me questions.
I like getting close to individuals. I like to be accepted and win people’s trust. I desire them to feel at ease and take the time to talk.
How could I get an insight into other individuals’s lives if I do not let them into mine?
I discovered that in Haiti, where life is difficult and individuals get by with absolutely nothing.
In Wuhan, I did not attempt to remain out of sight. I desire individuals to know what I am doing and comprehend why I exist. I do not conceal my camera. That is the fundamental guideline.
I do not like photos taken discreetly and if somebody asks me to erase one then I do.
After a reporting mission I constantly question what has actually ended up being of the people I fulfilled.
This year in Wuhan I had the ability to return and see a few of the people and examine if they were alright– particularly with individuals who swim in the river.
I took pleasure in seeing how the city got on as time went by.
I even went to a bar. It had lots of people. Chinese individuals love to party, and Wuhan is a young city with great deals of trainees.
On my last visit to Wuhan, in late November, I looked for any remaining indications of the pandemic.
I couldn’t discover any.
The city appeared to have actually got back to typical, even after 4,000 individuals died from the infection there.
That number accounted for most of the deaths from Covid-19 tape-recorded in China. One male we fulfilled, Liu Pei’en, transformed to Buddhism in order to discover brand-new significance in his life after his dad passed away.
Another, Zhong Hanneng, had actually lost his child and might not sleep.
The streets were packed, there were traffic congestion and shopping center were crowded.
There were maybe slightly fewer individuals out than throughout the summertime, because of the rain and the cold. However as soon as the sun came out, individuals came out onto the street.
The only thing that did not appear to have actually returned to Wuhan were the immigrants.
In one week there I need to have seen about 2 other immigrants. There were much more of them prior to the virus.
The worry of the infection is still there, though.
At the hotel they asked to see my unfavorable Covid-19 test certificate and my health QR code.
Every city now has a QR code offered by the health authorities for people to keep their telephones.
It includes data collected through the telephone about where the person has been and whether they have been close to an infected person.
The guidelines were stringent throughout the virus crisis and in Shanghai just recently they have actually started reimposing some procedures such as mask-wearing.
In some locations they still take your temperature level, close-up or with a thermal camera. You can be asked to show it to get into a shopping center, for example.
If it appears green then you are alright.