Woman Photographer Captures Moments, Reflects Spirit of the Times

ByZhang Jiamin November 10, 2022
Woman Photographer Captures Moments, Reflects Spirit of the Times
Zhao Yingxin, at work during the 2004 Athens Olympic Games


Zhao Yingxin is Vice-President of China Women Photographers Association and President of China Photo News. During the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, Zhao became the first woman photo chief in Olympic history, and she became the first Chinese to hold the position. This year, Zhao recorded the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics through her lens; thus, she witnessed the two Olympic Games hosted by Beijing.

First Woman Photo Chief in Olympic History

Former International Olympic Committee (IOC) President Juan Antonio Samaranch (1920-2010) once said, "The media is the final judge of the Olympic Games. We must strive to satisfy every journalist." Photojournalists are important participants and communicators of the Olympic media. Their wonderful pictures, with rich visual impacts, spread and shock the world. A photo chief holds an important position, as he/she serves every registered Olympic photographer. 

According to IOC's media-operation manual, the photo chief must be named to the Olympic organizing committee three years in advance. The photo chief should have rich experience in international sports photography, a full understanding of the Olympic media operation, strong communication and management skills, and be able to speak fluent English.

In April 2005, three years before the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, when the Beijing Organizing Committee for the 2008 Olympic Games decided to hire a photo chief, Xinhua News Agency recommended Zhao, then a veteran sports photojournalist of Xinhua. Thus, she became the first woman photo chief in the history of Olympic Games.

Zhao was responsible for all of the communication, management and coordination work related to Olympic photography, including overall planning of photography work targeting the 28 sports in 37 competition venues, and setting up special photographers' positions.

Zhao was also responsible for recruiting and training an 80-member team of photography managers and deputy managers, and a team of more than 200 volunteers. These people received training before being assigned to work in the various venues.

Woman Photographer Captures Moments, Reflects Spirit of the Times
Zhao Yingxin (middle), as photo chief of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, communicates with reporters during a competition.


"It is a tough job, and you have to be well-prepared," Anthony Edgar, then Head of Media Operations for the International Olympic Committee, told Zhao when they first met. 

To ensure the successful coverage of the Beijing Olympic Games, Zhao and her team offered the best services possible to the photographers, and they won high praise from the photographers. In her book, First Woman Photo Chief in Olympic History, Zhao recorded details of her hard work during the Beijing Olympics.

Zhao and her team got involved in the planning of the opening ceremony six months before it was held, and they developed a detailed understanding of each link and process of the opening ceremony. 

They set up 13 photographers' positions in the spectator stands of the Bird's Nest, and they arranged 300 photographers' seats in the audience. They also set up photographers' positions outside the Bird's Nest, so photographers could take panoramic photos of the opening ceremony and the fireworks. 

The VLAN (virtual local area network) covered all of the positions set up for the editors and photographers. The photographers were allowed to use the VLAN to transmit photos to their editors right after they took the photos. It was the first time a VLAN was used during the Olympic Games to realize real-time transmission of photos.

Woman Photographer Captures Moments, Reflects Spirit of the Times


Due to the full preparation in advance, the images of the stunning opening ceremony were splashed on the front pages of overseas newspapers. "A great number of overseas media used front pages to report the unparalleled pageantry of the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. I think that showed the meaning and value of providing services to the photographers," Zhao recalls. 

Witnessing Wonderful Beijing Winter Olympics

During the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, held from February 2-20, Zhao, as a member of the Olympic photography team of China Photographers Association, represented China Photo News, for the first time, in covering the Olympics.

"There were 735 registered photojournalists for the Beijing Winter Olympics, 140 of whom were Chinese. I am really proud to be one of them," Zhao said at the time.

Woman Photographer Captures Moments, Reflects Spirit of the Times
A photo of an athlete taken by Zhao Yingxin


On the night of February 14, the temperature dropped below 20 degrees Celsius at Genting Snow Park, in Zhangjiakou, in North China's Hebei Province. Xu Mengtao, a 31-year-old veteran of Team China, competed in the women's aerial freestyle skiing competition. 

Xu's last jump was perfect. She won China's first-ever Olympic gold medal in women's aerial freestyle skiing. "I finally won! I won!" Xu shouted. Zhao captured the exciting moment. She had stood in the snow with her camera for more than four hours during the competition. Zhao visited Genting Snow Park five times during the Games to photograph the athletes. 

Beijing became the first city to host both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games, making it the inaugural "dual Olympic city." During the closing ceremony of the Beijing Winter Olympics, Zhao's eyes misted with tears when she heard the 2008 Beijing Olympic theme song, You and Me, and as she watched the Olympic rings rise into the air. It was reminiscent of the scene in 2008.

Woman Photographer Captures Moments, Reflects Spirit of the Times
A photo of athletes taken by Zhao Yingxin


During more than 30 interviews during the Winter Olympics, Zhao captured numerous moments of Chinese athletes winning medals and striving to achieve their Olympic dreams, and she recorded the solidarity and love of athletes, from all countries, in the face of the global pandemic. She also recorded the great love of the volunteers and pandemic-prevention and -control staff through her lens. Her photographs captured the unparalleled "simple, safe and splendid" Winter Olympics, and her images embodied the power of the spirit of the Beijing Olympic Games.

Zhao had worked in the photography department of Xinhua News Agency for 15 years. She witnessed the process of Xinhua becoming a member of the international Olympic photography team, and enjoying the same rights with the world's other leading media agencies. That was in part the result of the strength of Chinese sports, and the rise of China's international status and influence.

Woman Photographer Captures Moments, Reflects Spirit of the Times
A photo of athletes taken by Zhao Yingxin


Tribute to the Great Era

Zhao developed an interest in playing table tennis when she was a primary school student, and she eventually fell in love with sports. 

She majored in news photography when she studied in the department of journalism of Renmin University, in Beijing. After graduation, she became a photojournalist with Xinhua. In 1993, she began working in the United Kingdom, as the first woman photographer assigned overseas by Xinhua.

While she was a photojournalist with Xinhua, she covered many major events, such as Hong Kong's return to China, the 50th National Day celebrations, Beijing's successful bid to host the Olympic Games, the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics and the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. She carried the same photograph equipment as her male counterparts, and she took the same wonderful and high-quality pictures as the men photojournalists. "I can do as good as men photojournalists, or even better than them. Only in this way can there be a unique creation," Zhao says. 

She thinks women photographers are more sensitive than men. Zhao always wants to capture the athletes' eyes during the competitions, because their eyes are the most emotional and touching element to the audience. "Under high pressure during the intense sports competitions, the outbreak of a moment can most reflect the mental strength of the athletes," Zhao says.

Woman Photographer Captures Moments, Reflects Spirit of the Times
Zhao Yingxin, at the National Ski Jumping Center, before the opening of the Beijing Winter Olympic Games


Some people say Olympic photography is sometimes regrettable, because there is no way to "do it again." But that's part of the charm of being a sports photojournalist; given the live action, a sports photographer must be extremely focused to capture the most fascinating moment. In her career, Zhao has witnessed many exciting, and touching, historical moments.

Chen Lu became China's first figure skating world champion. Zhao was the only Chinese photojournalist on the scene when Chen won the gold medal at the 1995 World Figure Skating Championships, in Birmingham, the United Kingdom. Zhao captured Chen's "excited eyes" after she won the title.

Seventeen years later, Zhao covered the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, and she witnessed the historic moment when Yang Yang won China's first Winter Olympic gold, in the women's 500-meter short-track speed skating. Zhao still remembers Yang's eyes as Yang competed during the final. What Zhao saw through Yang's eyes was the fearless spirit of striving to realize the Olympic dream, the true spirit of the Olympic Games.

"During my years as a photojournalist, I witnessed the inevitable injuries of athletes, but also their positive energy and passion for sports. Having covered many Olympic Games, I have a deeper understanding of the Olympic spirit," Zhao says.

Woman Photographer Captures Moments, Reflects Spirit of the Times
Zhao Yingxin (middle) celebrates with her foreign colleagues after the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.


Zhao, the one-time student who loved playing table tennis and the sports photojournalist and Olympic photo chief, has always been inspired by the spirit of sports. She has never stopped moving forward. Her book, First Woman Photo Chief in Olympic History, reviews her unique experiences as the Olympic photo chief, and during her career as a professional photographer. Through stories and moments, the book outlines the struggle of a generation.

Zhao has been honored as one of the Top 10 National Outstanding Photographers, Top 10 Contemporary Outstanding Sports Photographers, and Leading Talents in the National Press and Publication Industry. She has also won the Golden Eye Award for her achievements in photography.

The times are changing, and Zhao's identity is also changing. But her love for sports, her passion for photography and her persistent pursuit of her career objectives have never wavered. She believes photography, with its visual appeal and communication capability, will play a broader — and more profound — role in recording the times, and in promoting social development.

In the era of popular photography, technology may change the way photographs are taken and recorded, and technology may make photography seemingly easier and more engaging, but there will never be a substitute for a professional photographer's mind and intelligence. Zhao hopes more photographers will help document the great era through the lens, and that they will help create better photographs.


Photos Supplied by Zhang Jiamin and Interviewee

(Women of China English Monthly October 2022 issue)


Please understand that womenofchina.cn,a non-profit, information-communication website, cannot reach every writer before using articles and images. For copyright issues, please contact us by emailing: website@womenofchina.cn. The articles published and opinions expressed on this website represent the opinions of writers and are not necessarily shared by womenofchina.cn.