Hukou Waterfall in Jixian county, Shanxi province. [Photo by Lv Guiming/China Daily]
Lv Guiming's day typically begins with a call from some media house. "Excuse me. We need the latest photograph of the Hukou Waterfall." Soon after, while his neighbors head for their farmland carrying hoes, the 48-year-old farmer-turned photographer living near the world's largest yellow waterfall in Jixian county of Shanxi province, emerges from his house with a tripod on his shoulder and camera in hand, and heads for the waterfall, the roars of which he has grown up hearing.
The Hukou Waterfall, which is in the middle reaches of the Yellow River, China's mother river, is 20 meters tall while its width varies between 30-50 meters during different seasons. The waterfall, which takes its name from the Hukou Mountain, is narrowest, just 20-30 meters wide, when flowing through the Jinxia canyon, almost appearing like tea being poured from a teapot.
The Yellow River, which starts from the north of the Tibet-Qinghai Plateau and flows into the Bohai Bay, carries about 1.6 billion tons of sand and mud each year from the Yellow Earth Plateau in its middle reaches to its lower reaches and the bay it pours into.
Were it not for the serious floods it has caused in China's history, and the ferocious Hukou Waterfall, the river is largely considered a quiet mother.
Over the years, Lv has come to realize how the waterfall is multi-faceted.
For instance in winter, the river freezes, the waterfall transforming into a magnificent cascade of ice. During rainy and dry seasons, the color of the water keeps changing, depending on sand content.
"Sometimes during the course of a single day the river changes face many times, and I think I was destined to chronicle this wonder of nature. The beauty of this river is beyond words," Lv says.
There is never a dull moment for this "waterfall correspondent". Demands for photographs of the waterfall's various moods forever keep him on his toes. And the demand is always urgent. "They ask me for rice only after the water is boiled," Lv complains.
However, he is ever ready to oblige a series of media outlets, including the Xinhua News Agency.
Lv Guiming shoots the waterfall that has frozen into an ice cascade. [Photo by Lv Guiming/China Daily]
The Jixian county was once synonymous with poverty because of its harsh natural conditions and infertile land. Like many of his fellow-villagers, Lv made a living by working as a migrant laborer in some stone pits far from home. While at it, he would dream of becoming an author one day.
However, after experiencing hardships for 10 long years, he came to terms with reality, drifting away from his dreams.
"I don't want to sleep in the work shed all my life," he told himself one day in 1999. That was to be the turning point in his life.
The sudden arrival of tourists in the waterfall area brought with it the germ of an idea, to become a photographer for the tourists.
Pooling together his entire savings, he bought a Polaroid one-step instant camera and became self-employed near the river, earning more than 100 yuan each day ($14), which was nearly five times what he used to earn as a stone pit worker.
However, soon, more tourists and farmers-turned-photographers flocked the area with their cameras, making the going tougher. Improvisation became necessary. Despite opposition from his family, Lv sold his 0.26-hectare orchard and bought a professional film camera. Next, he shifted from the village he had grown up in, 17 kilometers away, to a cave just 500 meters from the waterfall. Ever since, he has been spending days and nights at the waterfall, with his camera a constant companion.
He also paid special attention to acquiring new skills from the professional photographers flocking the waterfall. Among them was Li Jiang, a renowned photographer from the neighboring Shaanxi province, who, moved by Lv's thirst for photography, started teaching him systematically.
"I just imitated Li and some other photographers, pointing my camera to the waterfall," said Lv, who built up his learning curve quickly.
Trained by Li, Lv has left his footprint on almost all possible places near the waterfall. He now knows how to get the best angle of a frozen waterfall where the light is always changing. He has to sometimes lie on his belly on an icy surface for a long time.
The perseverance and hard work have paid off. In 2003, a local newspaper published Lv's photo of the Hukou ice bridge. Next, People's Photography, a national newspaper, carried an article detailing how he captured the rare scene, bringing "tears to my eyes".
He is forever willing to learn new things from the countless photographers flocking the waterfall. Staying close to the waterfall also means tolerating the harsh natural conditions. These two factors, says Chen Jianxiang, director of the Jixian news center, make him one of the best chroniclers of the waterfall.
Lv is now one of the most famous photographers in his hometown, where no fellow-villagers call him "lazybones" any more.