An actress and a photographer made a pilgrimage to Nepal and India to produce pictures that they say were inspired by Buddha. Chen Nan reports in Beijing.
For anyone who wants to try something radically different or challenging, the story of Hao Lei and Wei Bing will be compelling. In the summer of 2010, the 34-year-old actress spent 16 days learning to take control, while the 44-year-old photographer spent a similar amount of time learning how to follow instructions.
They then spent half of June 2010 working together and created 26 photos and a documentary for the exhibition Thus.
The pair, along with a filmmaker and clothes designer, made pilgrimages to Buddha's birthplace in Nepal, the Bodhi Tree where Buddha achieved enlightenment, the Ganges River and the site of Nalanda, one of the first great universities in recorded history, to search for the truth of self.
Although the two-week journey was their first contact with Buddhism, Hao and Wei say they achieved more than expected.
"The journey was very, very personal," Hao says at the exhibition's opening ceremony. She shaved her head before traveling.
"To get the sense of pureness, I started with changing my appearance," she says. "I wanted to be a symbol in these pictures, rather than the actress Hao Lei."
Wearing a hand-embroidered headscarf and a long robe, she stands in front of a picture called Ganges River. With her back to the camera in the photo, Hao stands at the front of the wooden boat, her long white robe drifting and one arm rising toward the sky.
In other pictures, most of them black-and-white, Hao wanders the forest, immersed in sunlight, staring at the camera without makeup and covering her face with a large piece of white cloth.
This represents, they say, a radical rethink of who they used to be.
On the road to inner peace
Actress Hao Lei and photographer Wei Bing make pilgrimages to Buddha's birthplace in search of inner peace. Photo by Wang Jing / China Daily
Hao gained international attention by starring in director Lou Ye's film Summer Palace in 2006. Wei is known for taking celebrity pictures for fashion magazines, such as the Chinese editions of Marie Claire and Vogue.
"She was as beautiful as she looked on screen," Wei recalls of their first meeting, adding he liked her maturity and independence.
At the time, Wei was bored of taking celebrity photos in the studio, while Hao was dealing with the fallout from a breakup.
"We wanted to do something different," Hao says. "We sought to find a way to refresh ourselves and find truths about our lives, which had been twisted and covered by the chaotic world."
Wei says: "Hao is known for being brutally honest, and it's true. She is not simply a model in those pictures. She also came up with ideas and provided direction. I knew who and where I was going to shoot. The theme of those pictures I was going to take was clear in my mind."
"However, with Hao, I didn't know what I could get from her. I also didn't know what the journey could bring me. I loved the uncertainty of everything, which inspired me."
Shortly after they arrived in Nepal and India, Wei and Hao were amazed by the landscape and its connection to Buddha.
"The glamour of showbiz blinded my eyes during the past 10 years, and my personal troubles also disturbed me," Hao says. "I regained my inner peace through the journey. I used to think that facial expressions were the best way to communicate. When you are happy, you laugh, and you frown when you are sad. But I had no facial expressions in those photos," she continues.
"We were glad that we stepped out of our comfort zones. The journey was one of the most liberating experiences of my life."
Exhibition curator Na Risong, artistic director of Inter Gallery and a good friend of Wei, says the photos were on the photographer's computer for a year before he went through them again and decided they deserved an audience.
The photo exhibition is at Inter Gallery in the 798 art zone until March 27. It will tour other cities later in the year. The documentary, which has the same title as the exhibition, will be distributed around the world.