Lu Guang is a Chinese photojournalist, heavily criticized by the Chinese government for documenting and exposing everyday realities of people on the margins of Chinese society like “coal miners, drug addicts, HIV patients and pollution.”
Sadly, the photographer might have become the latest victim of the Chinese government’s “extreme censorship.” His wife has reported him missing on November 3rd, 2018. “I know that he wouldn’t have done anything illegal,” Xu, 45, said in a phone interview from New York, where she is studying art design and raising their child.
Now, the award-winning photographer is at the center of his own stark story. He was taken away by state security agents for unknown reasons, Lu’s wife, Xu Xiaoli, reported.
Guang was supposed to attend some photography events in Urumqi in the Xinjiang region of China and meet his friend Mr. Chen in Sichuan afterwards. But he didn’t make it to Sichuan. Neither his wife, Xu, nor Mr. Chen were able to contact the photographer.
A friend of Xu helped her inquire about her husband’s whereabouts in his home province of Zhejiang, where authorities said Lu and a fellow photographer had been taken away by Xinjiang state security. They did not give any further details, the friend told Xu.
“He has been lost for more than 20 days,” said Xu on Twitter. “I have repeatedly contacted Xinjiang police but have been unable to get through. It is our 20th wedding anniversary next week. We should be celebrating it together. I can only hope for his safe return. ”
Xinjiang’s propaganda department did not respond to a faxed request for comment. When asked about Lu during a regular briefing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was not aware of the situation.
The Xinjiang region is well-known for its iron-fisted surveillance and control of the Uighur Muslim community, often arresting reporters investigating the events. “The reality in China is you never know if you’re going to get into trouble because there are no written rules,” said Lu in an interview last year.
Back in 2004, Lu won the World Press Photo competition for exposing poor Chinese AIDS villagers who became infected with HIV after selling their own blood to eke out a living. Many people have contracted HIV due to unsafe procedures carried out when giving blood.
His photos tackle gritty subjects like pollution and industrial environmental destruction, issues traditionally avoided by the Chinese press because they risk punishment for exposing societal problems that the government may consider sensitive.
But Lu never had problems with the police before, according to Xu, who added that she was not aware of any photo projects he had planned for his Xinjiang trip.
“He has a strong sense of social responsibility,” she said. “He believed, after confronting the faces of the destitute, that there were things that people should know. At the very least, he believed that his photos might motivate them to help others, to trigger change and make things better.”
Lu’s profile on the World Press Photo website says he is the recipient of numerous other photography honors including Germany’s “Henri Nannen Prize” in Photography and a National Geographic Photography Grant. Lu was the first photographer from China to be invited by the U.S. State Department as a visiting scholar.
Xu said she believes it was Lu’s first visit to Xinjiang. A stifling security apparatus has been imposed on the region in recent years as the government combats what it calls terrorist threats from Xinjiang’s predominantly Muslim ethnic Uighur and Kazakh populations.
Check out some of the photographer’s most shocking pictures here.