mark unrau – china train



China Train by Mark Unrau


This image was taken of a Chinese business woman on board the controversial train heading from Xining China to Lhasa Tibet. This train is the Worlds Highest and is an engineering wonder. At its highest as shown here in the photograph is an astounding 5000 meters above sea level.

90 Responses to “mark unrau – china train”

  • Journalist type, with a bit of persona nostalgia.

    I like it in a simple way.

    Tank You Mark

  • Mark,

    I really love this photograph. Some nostalgia on this image that is really touching me. Will also check if you have an essay on this as I would like to see more.


  • Oops, Sorry

    THANK You :)

  • This image is very on time for me.
    I’ve just seen movie “Elegy” with Ben Kingsley and Penelope Cruz, did you see it?? One of the best I’ve seen last time.
    Is is movie about traveling, moving, road trips, passing, crossing…
    There is many excellent sentences.
    Great movie.
    And picture Mark!


  • a picture/ expression we have seen so many times in China….Does it matter? Nope. It’s very representative.

  • True Katharina, I have seen that look, and elbow hold, on waitresses as well, on a slow evening. She doesn’t look impressed (nostalgia?!?!? Eye of the beholder I guess, Eric and JC), just a long train ride…. the shot is fine, her figure is almost as withdrawn, and absent, or rather barely there, as her mood.

  • On a second glance there’s a few other things one could interpret into this image ( Mark, I assume you were still in Qinghai province when you took tis picture ?)…but why ?

  • A portrait combined with a beautiful landscape and raining storm clouds…. very nice.

  • At 5000 meters above sea level there is only about half as much oxygen in the air as at sea level. This combined with long hours sitting in a train …. I think the business lady was not the only one with an absent look on her face …

  • NatGeo style…
    the epitome of Boredom…
    the lady is bored and she makes me feel bored also…
    in other words boredom…classic “china boredom”…
    (… what the hell is wrong between me & china…? )

  • I think part of the problem with the singular pictures can be the captions. This caption is an example of it. Why is the train controversial? I find the picture pleasing, but I am left with this question. Is it controversial because it is China? This caption is in the middle of hinting at something, but not giving it to me.

  • This photo looks selectively colored…I still like it. Is she bored…does she hate her job?? I dunno. I think it is about “reflective smallness”. She is on the edge of the frame looking out on a vast landscape. Her being the largest compositional element is a nice ironic twist. Let`s face it, we all feel large in reference to the world sometimes. Everything around us is so important and we lose sight of the fact we are small. I could see this happening with a business person. Her reflection doesn`t even have a large footprint on the world. I digress for a moment…what is up with Asian Slur Syndrome around here?? Let`s share the love and pick on black folk and rednecks for awhile. Alive and ready in West “By God” Virginia. peace and love.

  • is it just me, or is there a slight colour cast on the womans face when compared to the landscape outside the train?

    either way, the high contrast in the right hand side of the image compared with the more even tonality of the landspace kind of bothers me. i realise that it’s two different sets of lighting, but it feels a little bit exaggerated on the girls face.

  • Is this B&W or color photograph? Is it partially desaturated? Wasn’t that a deadly sin of documentary photography? Or is it my monitor again? Call me a techno jerk, but I still don’t see artistic expression in such manipulation. This is a very good photograph, but wasn’t it very good as it was?

  • I did not notice this is half desaturaded image before now. It makes this image more naive in fact.
    For me it is kind of mistakes which shouldn’t be made.
    But image is rally nice.

  • Hi Zeljko,
    just for my understanding: you think that the landscape was desaturated while the inside of the train is still in color? Or do you mean that everything was desaturated a little, … or both? :))

    Do not know how the landscape looks like… maybe it is not very colorful there … Maybe the window glass has some coating too …

    But yeah, it looks like the whole picture was desaturated a little. Does not bother me so much though… still more information than pure b&w. OK, I admit I am no PJ – so I do not know about this rule you are talking about. Althogh it sounds like something from NG … Which would be understandable … Desaturated photographs would look strangely different among all the color.

    Then again I saw some color work from Paolo Pellegrin, and he definitively worked on it. So maybe the rule does not apply anymore, or … at least not to everything (or everybody).

    It would be nice if Mark would say something as to if he did manipulate the color and if so, for which reason. So then we at least have his side.

  • This looks like a picture of my personality

  • i guess it’s a question of what is real and what is reality.

    i’m not really one of these people who is a stickler for “the rules” (whatever they are) but if there is one single thing that is gauranteed to turn me off an image, it’s selective colouring or selective desaturation.

    it looks to me like the landscape is black and white, while the inside of the train is desaturated colour; the question is, quite simply, why?!! using this as a device does (in my eyes anyway) absolutely nothing for the image apart from making it look a bit odd…

    it’s a simple enough picture, a bit of a cliche (i think anyone photographer who has travelled in a chinese train probably has multiple versions of this image – i know i have several) but nevertheless fairly well executed – apart from the post processing!! what is the point?

  • The more I look at it the more I wonder too. But still: maybe it is the landscape as it is!? There are these absolute colorless landscapes … And I do not know this specific one.
    Maybe we should wait for Mark to say a word or two.

  • It looks the same to me. The landscape is b&w and the girl is desaturated color. Obviously there is an intention on it. Maybe to express the warmth inside, the cold outside, I don’t get it eather.
    There are many reasons for processing colors of the pictures, just the same reasons why we used different films. Polaroid does not give the same colors as fuji, or kodak… and then there are different textures, velvia, provia… So, it is for the same reason why some photographers “work” in their personal colors, like Paolo Pelegrin (I really love his colors). But I don’t understand the selective processing (part of one picture in color, the other part in b&w). For me that makes the image irreal and takes away its magic.

  • “But still: maybe it is the landscape as it is!?”

    having travelled through the tibetan borders, i can pretty much guarantee that the grass/stones/soil/sky in that region isn’t a uniform grey.

  • yes, that’s the first thing i noticed: why the right part of this photograph looks to be color and the landscape b/w? If it’s an artistic choice i dont really see any reason for it. Looks like a pointless affectation.

  • Hi Lassal,

    It’s not about strangely looking photograph. It’s about, as Ben said, reality. I wouldn’t go too cerebral about it, but if we reject photography’s credibility as the image of reality, how can we expect that our audience will trust us? I am speaking about documentary photography, not advertising, not art.

    That’s what I’ve learned, and that’s what I think is right. But this is not the first time David publishes, in my opinion, “badly” altered image. I would, like many others, like to know why.

    And please Lassal, would You link to that photographs of Paolo Pellegrin? Thank You.

  • Well, seems like he won the “World In Focus Photo Contest” 2007 with this photograph. From over 27.000 entries, as they say.

    So much for NG wanting color :)))
    But what I see from the comments is that at least on the website it looks quite b&w.

  • Hi Zeljko,

    I was just looking for it (Paolos photographs) but I am so badly organized here, and although he has some color photographs in the Magnum Archives these are not what I am talking about.

    It was still over at “road trip” when someone came up with the links. There was also a link to an interview where he briefly talked about his use of PS.
    Guess if Bob was here right now he would just know where to find it. Or David B. I will have to look some more. I am pretty sure I bookmarked it. But … I bookmarked quite a lot lately.

    Sorry, I’ll come back to you when I have it.

  • As to the manipulated images on this site… I think David has already tried to explain. And Bob was writing his soul out to explain. I could not do it with my english. But it is just not about PJ here, where reality seems to be what the camera picks up and no alterations are allowed. It is about a broader world of photography. It includes photographers and/or artist that use photography to depict a different reality than that which you are after.

    I would not bother, Zeljko. As David said: not everything is for everyone but you can definitely learn from all. So just lean back and have a look. You will get unhappy here if you expect 100% PJ or even documentary, that is for sure.

    I have to admitt that I have no clue where David is heading at. But maybe we are used to him a little more here because of “road trip” and thus are more relaxed when he takes us “blindly” across the country. :))

    I am very curious too about the final image … It still feels like a puzzle and he is revealing piece by piece.

  • Ok, some of the images were for the project “The Iraqi Diaspora” he had done for Vanity Fair. I saw it in Perpignan this year.

    There was an interview … But I do not seem to find the link anymore. Only the announcement

    Tried to google for it … but …
    Maybe someone else still has it.


  • What i do like about the photograph is the contrast between her suit (beautiful, pinstripe business suit) and the starkness of the landscape: that tension is what makes the moment interesting for me, though actually in the photograph i am drawn more to the landscape and the reflection in the window….i like the expression too (as if she were lost, longing for something no longer possible for her life)….but, as mentioned before, i agree, using in trains (we all love it), this images becomes something that each of us has, the double reflections, the difference between the exterior and the interior….anyone know the work of John vink went he road the trade across the us, i think from colorado north…i miss that here…somehow more of the landscape…or more of her….

    anyway, a melancholic image for sure…but i too was left a bit bothered by the color on the right…i didnt think it was our monitor (cause the different between the white of the curtain and the whites outside, reveal differences), but a decision to use a splash of desaturated color with her….in this sense, it doesnt work for me at all…almost as if she were the important part of the pic…and i really hunger for that landscape, just as significant….

    anyway, i’m not bothered by it as a distinction of documentary/PJ, but it just doesnt work, and becomes more of a distraction….would love to hear the reason for this choice :))

    and as an aside: I think, though am not certain, that the photographs about which Lassal might be referring are Paolo’s images from Iraq Diaspora…..part of which was shot for Vanity Fair and shown at Perpignan this year:

    ok, running

  • JOE
    how do you get your links to “hide” behind a word? I just got another “your message is awaiting moderation” above, because of the 2 links I posted.

  • I don’t think anyone is objecting (anymore, not very loudly at least) to non-PJ, no documentary stuff, it’s an objection against “bad” processing.

    This in my opinion is the proper image for the word gimmick to be used.

    I have never seen one selectively colored picture that I like, it may be out there, I guess, but I still haven’t seen it.

  • Yes Bob, thanks. It is in fact the Iraq Diaspora… For some reason my comment above is “pending for moderation” – probably because of the two links. I can see it but I doubt everybody else can.

    But I did not find a link to the interview anymore. Unfortunately. I thought it was quite revealing.

  • Lassal/Jared:

    I posted the link to Paolo’s work that I think she was referring to (his Iraqi Diaspora series, shot for Vanity Fair, and showed at Perp this year) in my first comment:

    by the way, i do think the use of the work “gimmick” here is appropriate (ok, i guess i should be shot too by Bob black ;)) )….’cause it seems to not be an organic part of the ‘feeling’ of the pic….i agree here with Jared, Joe and others bothered by the color on the right….and it doesnt make sense to me, emotionally, because it seems like the person is the living one and the landscape the indifferent, when the landscape here is so important :)))…

    anyway, to each his own ;)))….but will be cool to hear what Mark has to say…


  • Lassal”:

    here is the interview to Paolo

    ok, i have to run….

    shit to do :))


  • Well … seems like Mark really does use selective collor correction here and there:

    But then … I use it too.

    Nontheless I agree: in the case above it would have done the image good if the landscape was not desaturated. I just hate to not hear what Mark has to say before shouting out “bad manipulation”!

  • Hi Lassal,

    #a href=”URL”>link</a*

    replace # with

    ‘link’ is the name you want to appear e.g. “Here…”



  • Oooh, that didn’t work.. let me try again..

    #a href=”URL”>link</a*

    replace # with

    ‘link’ is the name you want to appear e.g. “Here…”


  • BOB
    I found that site too, but there does not seem to be a link to the actual interview. It is not even a transcription of it … It is just the annoucement or so.

  • Ok, one last time open the html with “” not # and *, and if this doesn’t work and it makes me look foolish again, i’m not speaking to you again Lassal :)

  • B&W on the outside but colourful in the inside Akaky?

    I personally love this photograph; congratulations Mark. I’m sure that David posted this photograph for a reason and that would be to get the audience here to think.

    David comes from a background of, for the most part, classic documentary photojournalism. Zeljko asks if it is not a sin for this (Mark’s) style of photograph to represent documentary photography?

    I ask you all this. Can a photojournalist be creative? By this I mean can he or she use techniques, digital or analogue, to “create” within a photograph a look that instills within the viewer an emotional response: a specific emotional response that the photographer wishes the viewer to feel?

    Has Mark imparted to the viewer more or less information with this particular technique? I say more.

    If we can’t put something of ourselves and our personal vision and creative energy into our photographs then we may as well all just look at CCTV output.

    May I bring to your attention the work of Pep Bonet on the Contact Press website as an example of a creative photojournalist.

    Best wishes,


  • :))…i think that PJ/Docs absolutely MUST bring creativity to their work, because work itself is simply a personal reaction/intepretation to the surrounding environment/people/events…i’ve had this chat with John V and Chris A at magnum (and in person with chris)…the question is, did this particular use of color (her face/bracelet/clothes etc) tension against the b/w exterior add or detract from the image itself…a really subjective call :))))….for me, it’s a distraction, but for others very well might be an enhancement …for me, it’s not so much about judgment but im interested to hear Mark’s reason…:))…as a photographer (and lover a photographer) i am always more interested in what another photographer has to say about her/his work than my own reaction to the work :)))..which is what is so special about Burn…in put from the artists themselves…

    ok, running for the day


  • Having taken 8-10 cross-country train rides here in the U.S., I can totally relate to the expression on his woman’s face. Not boredom, it is rather the almost trance-like zone you get into while looking out the window at the passing landscape…even landscape that whizzes by at 5000 meters above sea level. I always bring a book and never end up reading it. Looking out that window is mesmerizing. At least for me.


  • correction: “this woman’s face” not “his woman’s face.”

  • I KNEW I had seen this image somewhere before.
    Thanks for the link Lassal.

  • Why is there links to other photographer’s work when there is dicussion of a post? Does this strike anyone as rude, unfocused, divergent of purpose? I think we owe it to this photographer to concentrate on his image.
    I think we should be speaking about Mark”s image instead of Mark speaking about this image. Peace and love.

  • It is an all-in-all discussion of this image, Cliff. We are comparing, contrasting, discussing whether it works and showing examples.

    Go ahead and place my name with Paolo’s, I’ll rarely be offended. :)

  • Mike, sorry to be pedantic but Pep Bonet is with NOOR. Just in case anyone is trying to look his work up.


  • Hi Cliff,

    interesting thought. Actually I think we just have 4 links here – some were posted more than once – and of these 4, 2 links show works from Mark.
    The other links were posted to … how do you say that in English? … “give evidence” to something that was said. Referencing. In my oppinion that is not rude but necessary and important for a good discussion. Like in a research paper, where you have to state where you got your information from. Sometimes information is not right. How will you consider that if it is enough to say that you heard/or read it someplace?

    So I hope you understand if you see it from this angle …

    And well… yes … we were talking about Mark’s image. But as we kind of bumped into a dead end and the question stood in the air, wheter he had desaturated part of the image (why?) or if it maybe was just something else that had happened there (and then there would be no “why?”). We would just have loved to know that so that we could go on with the discussion without being on the wrong track.

    Guess that is fair enough … :))))))
    Sorry if you found it rude.

    Peace and love to you too.

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