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Ryan Pyle

Self-taught photographer is capturing China in transition

A second-year course on modern China sparked a life-changing decision for photographer Ryan Pyle (BA 2001 New College). After finishing a politics degree, he embarked on a three-month trip to the world’s most populous country, and found it so interesting he moved there.

Living in Shanghai, Pyle began taking pictures and scraped together money to buy film and cameras by teaching English. His first official photography job was for Cathay Pacific’s in-flight magazine in 2004, shooting renovated colonial buildings in Shanghai. In November 2005, the New York Times commissioned Pyle, 28, to cover two stories: bird flu and the declining quality of rural health care.

Pyle and reporter Howard French travelled to Anhui province, about 500 kilometres west of Shanghai, where they found a village carrying out bird flu vaccinations. “The situation was a mess,” says Pyle. Untrained men were inoculating hundreds of birds with the same needle – raising the risk of spreading the flu rather than lowering it. Their story ran on the Times’ front page.

On the same trip, Pyle photographed Jin Guilian, a labourer who could not afford proper treatment for a heart ailment. Pyle and French found him lying helpless in an unheated clinic outside the industrial city of Fuyang.

The stories earned Pyle recognition among photography editors, and his clients now include the Wall Street Journal and German news magazine Der Spiegel. The stories also taught him a lot about the growing disparity between rich and poor and the challenges of being a reporter in China.“There is no freedom of the press,” he says.“If it weren’t for foreign journalists and a handful of very brave local journalists who defy the rules, there would be almost no news about what is really happening in China.”

Pyle considers himself a serious student of China and hopes to publish a book about his adopted home. “My academic work in politics at U of T taught me how to think, and how to see issues from different angles,” he says.“I take pictures to record a moment in history.”shoots

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