In Sha Fei’s wartime photojournalist documentaries (1937-1949), his signature framing of close-up shots of human figures within a segment of almost monotonous landscape often reemerged as film stills of revolutionary figures.
Awaiting orders in the Autumn October 1938
Here, Sha Fei carefully uses light and a low angle to depict three guerrillas. The guerrillas take advantage of the “green curtain” of tall crops to cover their position. Many of Sha Fei’s photos focused on individuals during wartime, which served to transcend the violent horror of war and humanize the otherwise brutal battlefield.
Resistance fighting in the Beiyue Region,
This photograph, which captures a soldier getting shot, evokes Robert Capa’s famous Spanish Civil War photo “Falling Soldier. ” As there were very few skilled photographers in the Chin-Cha-Chi Border Region (an area comprising of the border regions of Shanxi, Chahar and Hebei), wartime photographers like Sha Fei rarely went to live battlefields; this photo might have been taken during a military drill.
Japanese girl August 1940
After capturing the Jingxing Coal Mine, the Eight Route Army rescued a young Japanese girl seemingly abandoned by the Japanese Army. General Nie Rongzhen wrote a letter to the Japanese Mountain Division enjoining them to send the girl back to her family, and sent a man to escort her back to the Japanese Camp. In May 1980, the People’s Daily published Yao Yuanfang’s article “Japanese Maiden, Where Are You?” with Sha Fei’s photographs, which prompted a public search for her in China and Japan. The girl in the photographs, Mihoko, was found and on July 10, she, her husband, and their three daughters arrived in Beijing to meet Marshall Nie Rongzhen.
The first council of the Chin-Cha-Chi Border Area January 1943
The light pouring in from the windows creates a sense of enlightenment as it illuminates the peasants listening to a speech at a council meeting. The staging of the photograph also portrays a drama found in many of Sha Fei’s photographs.
Norman Bethune bathing Summer 1939
Sha Fei and the Canadian Dr. Norman Bethune were close friends. The composition and nude subject here reflect Sha Fei’s appreciation of Western photographic practices. Nudity did appear in traditional Chinese art, however, the nude was still a controversial subject in 1930s China.
A student representative of Fulun Elementary School speaks at a farewell meeting for enlisted workers August 1946
Placing subjects against the background of the sky is a common visual trope in CCP photographic propaganda, with the elevated position of the child against the sky conveying a sense of sublimity. The composition of this photo may have also been influence by woodcuts, which often depict an unrecognizable mass of faces gazing at a prominent figure or image. Woodcut printing, championed by the Woodcut Movement in the 1930s, was a powerful propaganda tool for left-wing supporters in China.