In 2005, grief-stricken Australian photographer Catherine Croll traveled to Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, on the invitation of a friend, in a bid to come to terms with the loss of two family members.
Australian photographer Catherine Croll embarks on her journey of discovery in Guizhou province. [China Daily/Feng Jianguo]
That was the start of the first of her two tours by hard sleeper across China, researching and documenting the country's traditional cultural heritage.
The 54-year-old says the more than 40,000-kilometer-long China tours once again kindled in her a passion for living and led to the photo album, China Portrait, in 2007.
The next year, she helped found a cultural organization to facilitate cultural exchanges between China and Australia.
Croll says her interest in China was triggered in the 1970s, when she was studying poster arts in college. At campus art exhibitions, she saw the image of Chairman Mao Zedong on T-shirts, posters and badges. She was especially interested in such traditional crafts as paper cutting, mask and fabric making.
She is still proud of how she managed to get by during her trips, when she was alone and not able to speak a word of Chinese. "I was good at playing charades," she says.
"Within the first six months after I returned to Australia, I was always wondering how I could get paid to come back," she jokes.
In late September, Croll was invited to join China: The New Long March, a large media project organized by Qingdao Publishing Group and Australian Media Group Weldon International to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Long March, the massive military retreat undertaken by the Red Army from Jiangxi to Shaanxi provinces to evade being pursued by the Kuomintang in 1934 and 1935.
A select group of photographers from China and abroad were dispatched to sections along the route of the original Long March to put together a portrait of China today.
A photo album, a related documentary and other multimedia materials will be released in multiple languages in early 2012.
A photo exhibition is also to be held at the 2012 London Book Fair, as one of China's country-of-honor events.