Desert Storm by Sean Gallagher

A man pushes his bike into a suffocating duststorm on the outskirts of the town of Hongsibao, in Ningxia Province in north-central China.

Sand and duststorms have been one of the major problems as a result of desertification in China. As the spring winds blow, dry and degraded topsoil is picked up and thrown into the air to be carried in immense clouds of sand and dust. Each year, these spring storms plague northern China, originating in the northern central desert regions of the country. Moving east, the storms descend on China’s capital Beijing, shrouding it in a surreal yellow light. In recent years, these same sandstorms have been known to be carried on to South Korea, Japan and even as far as the west coast of the United States.

This image is one of a collection of images that I am currently producing for the Pulitzer Center On Crisis Reporting on the subject of ‘China’s Growing Sands’. The problems associated with sand and duststorms are but one chapter in the multifaceted subject of desertification that I am covering. Other chapters include environmental refugees, land management, tourism, water scarcity and abandoned cities.

I am writing articles to accompany my photos, which are being hosted on the Pulitzer Blog:



editors note:  Sean was the 2008 Emerging Photographer Fund stipend recipient…He took this grant funding and carried on all year long, doing more and more work on the desertification of China. This was his stated goal when applying for the grant   -david alan harvey


Website: Sean Gallagher


28 thoughts on “sean gallagher – desert storm”

  1. Nice image Sean. Expresses the theme beautifully, also wonderfully bleak. Look forward to seeing more form you project, I guess you are wrapping-up now? (at least this leg of the project).. Was five weeks right? Let us know when you start putting stuff together. Good luck finishing up!

  2. and where is he going??
    looks as if he is going into the great unknown…
    will look at more of your series….
    like the mystery of this one….

  3. I like the photo. It asks more questions about the future of this region than it answers. And that’s as it should be for this project.

  4. i like this image very much and also other Sean’s photos. it looks like the sand is going to swollow up the man in few seconds – as James said, expresses the theme nicely.

  5. On photo websites, people often comment saying “could see this as a natl Geo double spread”. Well, yes, If I may, I am not overwhelmed by the picture itself, but I just imagined it as a intoductory spread with the “desert onslaught” title on one side, and the image becomes potent, and simply, perfect.

  6. Good photograph and great website Sean, great to see your work progressing. In this particular photograph we can see the battle between Man and Nature – and who is going to win. As Herve has stated, besides being a good photograph in itself it is perfect for a photo editor, who would use it as a lead picture and drop in title and caption. But you knew that already, didn’t you?

    Best wishes,


  7. SEAN,

    It is great to regularly get to see what you are up to and you are a fantastic example of perseverance. I look forward to seeing what this while body of work will become. I recall you mentioning that you will soon get to start working on a book. This would be a great ending for the first EPF recipient… I hope you are doing well. We will be missing you in Charlottesville unless you have changed your mind.

    Please keep us posted as you have been doing!



  8. Dear All,

    Thanks for the feedback about this image. I, like those who commented, enjoy its simplicity in its attempt to convey what is happening here in China. It’s really just a teaser however, as I am wrapping up my trip now and getting into the serious task of editing a month and a half of images. I’ll be putting together an audio piece with narration in the near future, so please stay tuned.

    As I start to get my images in order, Pulitzer are uploading galleries on their site here:
    There are two up now with a few more to come.

    Also, If you are interested, the BBC ran this photo too last week and plugged Burn and the EPF:

    James….Yes, wrapping up now. It has been hard work but great fun. Will let you know when it starts to come together!

    Bob…I just learnt that the adjective Sisyphean means unending and/or repetitive…I hope you’re not trying to tell me something about my work! ;)

    Bestest to All,

  9. Sean, when I read your blog with its photos and historical background, I am in awe of what you are doing. Such a significant body of work! And hard work at that. You certainly exemplify the best use of the EPF. We are so proud of you. I anticipate reading the book and/or magazine articles and seeing an exhibit of these photos. You are really doing it, my friend!


  10. A civilian-mass audience

    From now one you will be called THE GALLABURN!!!

    Mr.Bob Black the ONE and ONLY BOB,please reconsider…:))))

    “In Greek mythology, Sisyphus (Greek: Σίσυφος ) was a king !!!
    Sisyphus promoted navigation and commerce, but was avaricious and deceitful, violating the laws of hospitality by killing travelers and guests.”
    WHAT NOT TO LOVE !:)!:)!:)

  11. Hello Sean,
    A few months ago when I first began reading and commenting on Burn, I came across the link to your work as the first recipient of the EPF grant. I like your project on desertification. It is truly a big topic that is going to become more and more important. Do you plan on continuing work only in China, or eventually covering the same issue in other parts of the world? There was an article in last month’s National Geographic about the farming regions of southeastern Australia becoming increasingly arid. And a while back they did something on the Sahel region in Africa. In any case….this is definitely a very important subject given its ramifications from an ecological point of view, but also the resulting socio/political upheavals that can, and most likely will develop.

    Will be following your work with avid interest…

    David Bacher

  12. SEAN – hello my friend. lovely image. i love the simplicity. you are doing great and important work on this subject. you are making the EPF program proud!! keep up the great work.

  13. Sean ;)))

    no amigo, it’s not about your work…it’s about the picture…the eternal struggle to push that boulder up the hill….this man struggle in the dust (the Yellow Dragon) storm to push his way home…..

    just in case, for clarification:



    CIVILIAN: reconsider what…..powerful picture, Sisyphus: powerful myth/metaphor ;))))

    i want to be LESS LESS involved here in writing, unless i write an essay, perspective….my work is to get good work here (waiting to see some of that work get published)…but for now, unless i have something urgent to say: let the others write……i’m tired…there is enough stuff to go on without me writing…

    i need time with my family away from the madness ;))



  14. incidentally, Camus wrote with regard to Sisyphean struggle, in other words OUR human struggle (in his essay on the meaning of life and death):

    “…the struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart.”

    and Civi, i have always LOVED Sisyphus….and yes, i know he was a king…like all of us…

    disappearing for some


  15. A civilian-mass audience

    BOB Black,

    My apologies…lost in translation…I forgot to write ( please to be perceived as a joke)

    Bob you are Da Man and I am a FAN
    and BURN without BOB BLACK
    is Civilian with NO OUZO…

    P.S Marina be strong cause your hands are full…:)))joke

  16. Eric…Thankyou my friend. I would love to come to Look3 this year, but I just don’t think it’s possible this time round. The book is still my goal for this work for sure. I think I am close, maybe even there, but I now need to sit down and take stock of where I am with the work after my travels, get some advice and really plan it seriously….DAH, I may need to call you sometime soon!

    Patricia…Glad you have followed the Pulitzer blog. Discovering the historical traces of desertification was one of the highlights of my trip. Whole cities disappearing because of losing the fight with conserving water was quite eye-opening. This is a serious fight with severe consequences for the losers!

    David B…Thanks for your comments. I think I’m going to stick with China. I live here, so it’s on my doorstep and it has all the facets associated with desertification. To represent this issue, I think this is the best place to be.

    Gina…Your words keep me going! Thankyou!

    Bob B…Thanks for the clarification ;)

  17. Dear Sean,

    I imagine that Everything has been disappearing in the yellow sands… very imaginary and symbolizing photo…

    I’m very proud of you as an EPF recipient .
    You are doing well.
    I ‘m looking forward to see your book.

    Best wishes,

  18. Hello Sean,

    I’ve been following your work over recent months as you know and want to thank you again. Global warming resulting in desertification, massive water shortages, the destruction of ecosystems and habitats with the resulting loss of species and the displacement of people may be in their infancy but where we appear to be headed long-term. Wouldn’t you consider making it a global story even if you were flown to all the expanding deserts around the world?!!!


  19. Eduardo Sepúlveda

    Much respect Sean,

    thank you very much Erica for the link, i turned up the volume and will apreciate to keep tuned.

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