Monday, 16 December 2013

Dave Tacon | China's Salt Village

Photo © Dave Tacon-All Rights Reserved

Al Jazeera occasionally features non-news photo essays on its web site...and buried amongst the various photo reportages on Mandela's death, I found a gallery of a village in the Chinese province of Yunnan called Nuodeng.

Dave Tacon photographed the village of Nuodeng, China's Village of Salt.

The village has been in existence as far back as the Han Dynasty more than 2,000 years ago, and its plentiful reserves of potassium-rich salt was harvested and traded via Yunnan's many trade routes that connected Southeast Asia with Tibet and the rest of China. Many of its current houses are from the Ming and early Qing dynasties and haven't changed much since those times. 

Salt, a rare and precious commodity, was essential for food preservation and led to Nuodeng being known as the richest village in China. Its salt was carried by horse caravan as far as India along the Tea Horse Road, which was also known as the Southern Silk Road. The route earned the name Tea-Horse Road because of the common trade of Tibetan ponies for Chinese tea, a practice dating back at least to the Song dynasty, when the sturdy horses were important for China to fight warring nomads in the north.

Its prosperity ended when China's salt industry was nationalized in 1949. However, descendants of a Huang salt merchant family continue to extract salt from brine by boiling it over huge wood-fired cauldrons. Along with tourism and salt-cured Nuodeng ham, salt is still a major source of income for the village.

Dave Tacon is a 2012 Walkley Award winning photographer and writer based in Shanghai. He is a finalist in Australia’s National Photographic Portrait Prize, and specializes in reportage, features and portraiture. His work has appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, Newsweek, Der Spiegel, ELLE, Corriere della Sera, Die Welt, Geographical, Sydney Morning Herald, and many more. His portrait and photo-documentary work is held in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, The National Library of Australia, State Library of Victoria and Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.