The city of Wuhan endured one of the harshest lockdowns in the world at the start of 2020. In his new project, Ariano explores what life is like today
Raul Ariano has lived and worked in China since he arrived in 2015 to report on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. Starting out as a photojournalist, covering news in south-east Asia for various global publications – including The New York Times, Die Zeit and Le Monde, among others – in the last few years, he has become more interested in working on long-term, personal projects. “I’m not sure that I can show things objectively, as someone who is not from this country,” he explains, speaking of China. “I want to make work where it is clear that I am showing things from my point of view.”
In the final weeks of 2019, an unusual number of people in Wuhan, Hubei Province, displayed severe flu-like symptoms. As the numbers rapidly increased, the growing concern led officials to diagnose a new strain of coronavirus: Covid-19. On 23 January 2020, the city, known globally as the epicentre of the pandemic, was placed in rigorous quarantine.
Ariano, who is originally from Milan and now based in Shanghai, looked on as the situation escalated. The government enforced 76 days of draconian restrictions: just one family member was allowed to leave their home every two days to purchase essentials, and all public services stopped. Then the lockdown ended. In September, the photographer travelled to Wuhan to see what had become of life there. “I wanted to photograph this sort of new world after the pandemic,” he says. Contrary to his expectations, life had resumed to near-normality, with the lockdown a sad but distant memory. “I was surprised. I thought I’d find more sorrow and more grief,” he recalls. “I’m not sure if it is because of the [government’s] propaganda or the situation around the world, but the people are thankful to the government – they think it did well [to control the virus].”
Despite the positivity he encountered, Ariano was cautious not to take what he heard too literally. “For the Chinese, it is important to never lose face,” he says. “If [the people I spoke to] discussed this matter with other local Chinese, perhaps they would be more critical. But because I’m a foreigner, it puts me in a different position. The Chinese often think that westerners want to criticise China.”
Ariano met subjects in bars and clubs, and through social media. He spoke to them about the past year and found that the pandemic had drawn the local community closer. The young and able helped shield the older generation by grocery shopping and distributing medical supplies. Some drove hospital staff to work when public transport was suspended. One man adopted several abandoned cats and dogs, thrown out of their homes by owners afraid that the unpredictable virus might spread through their roaming pets.
Ariano’s resulting series, Wuhan Mon Amour, captures the young faces of the city, many of whom played an important role in helping their fellow citizens make it through the crisis. And it appears the lockdown measures were largely effective, although some world political leaders criticised them. Today, the number of new cases in the city is at a low and controlled level; a story of hope for the rest of the world, which still has some way to go.
Starting out as an intern back in 2016, Izabela Radwanska Zhang is now the Editorial Director of British Journal of Photography in print and online. Her words have appeared in Disegno and Press Association. Prior to this, she completed a MA in Magazine Journalism at City University, London, and most recently, a Postgrad Certificate in Graphic Design at London College of Communication.