Sean Gallagher – China’s Fragile Forests

Sean Gallagher

China’s Fragile Forest


Natural forests cover about 10 percent of China, however few of these forests remain in a primary or pristine condition.

China’s forests are threatened primarily by timber collection, mining, unregulated harvesting of flora for traditional Chinese medicine and excessive development related to increased tourism. Reforestation efforts by authorities have also caused the proliferation of mono-culture forests, which have hampered forest recovery and negatively affected biodiversity.



In 2011, the UN’s official “International Year of Forests,” the forests of the southwest of China were classified by Conservation International as one of the world’s top ten most threatened forest regions.

This is the third chapter in a long-term body of work focusing on China’s environmental crises in the early 21st Century. The previous two chapters have focused on increasing desertification and on disappearing wetlands.

This work was funded by a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting.




Sean Gallagher is a British photojournalist, currently based in Beijing, China. Graduating in Zoology from the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in England, his work now focuses on environmental issues in Asia, with specific emphasis on China.

He was the first recipient of the Emerging Photographers Fund in 2008 and is a 4-time recipient of the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting Travel Grant. His work has appeared with news outlets including Newsweek, the New York Times, Der Spiegel and National Geographic. His work on environmental issues in China was acknowledged as “some of the most striking images on display at the Copenhagen climate change conference”, by the BBC World Service in 2009.

Related links

Sean Gallagher

Pulitzer Center

15 Responses to “Sean Gallagher – China’s Fragile Forests”

  • Enjoyed the essay. Thanks, Sean.

  • Sean Gallagher !!!???

    damn… that brings me back some memories….
    back in Look3 C/Villle 08, me and SG in the airport…
    they (TSA) just “stole” my water bottle….we laughed…
    he was going back to CHINA….
    i was going back “HOME”
    He kept his promise…
    He became a better , more sensitive photographer!
    (unlike me…laughing!!!)
    big hug Sean!

  • Very interesting essay Sean. We have problems of the same nature here in the north of Quebec. Our forest are being eaten away by foreign corporations without real plans of reforestation, and when there is one, it usually involves the plantation of trees that are alien to the region and are the cause for grave environmental consequences. I think the work that you’re doing is very important, I hope there will be more.

  • Sean gallagher…
    For doing such important work…
    With passion and a vision..
    Strong, colorful images
    Which embrace the universal…..

  • These images are all very gentle and quiet, an interesting approach to a story about deforestation and environmental crisis. On their own, these photographs do not read “crisis” to me. I also notice that there is a lot of face hiding and head lopping. Paired with the text, the overall effect gives me a feeling of dis-quiet and is somewhat surreal. I’m wondering if that is your intention.

    I love #5. A classic shot despite the tilted horizon. #11 is also very appealing, the point of view through the veil of branches is perfect.

    Great to see this here Sean, important work indeed. Good luck with the project. I hope you can make a difference.

  • Hi Sean, good to see that you are still photographing in China. Deforestation is a big issue: the fact that the forest has to be protected by boarded walkways speaks volumes.


  • Great work Sean both in photography and the issue you have chosen to cast light on.
    What I like most about your work is that it does not delve into the political, instead it focuses on the human.
    In #12 you sort of hinted at it but moved on.

    It was a shocking fact to know about the bamboo use to make disposable chopsticks.
    Knowing this is making me reconsider using them from now on. I will just ask for a fork.

  • Excellent series,Sean
    My only ‘concern’,given the serious nature of the topic, and I think Gordon sort of picked up
    on the same thing, is that the series,photographically, doesn’t quickly convey a sense of urgency.
    The images speak quietly but I’m not sure that in this day and age if the majority will take
    notice with a more subtle approach.

  • Dear All…

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments about the essay. I hope that you can see that I am trying continue the vein of work that began in 2008, when David placed his faith in me after seeing my work on desertification in China. Thanks again to David for publishing this essay here and sharing it with a wider audience.

    Many of the environmental issues that I try to tackle are quite understated and the severity of the situation is less than obvious to the casual observer. As a result, I think it reflects in the lack of the perceived drama that you might associate with the subject matter. It’s a reflection though I believe of myself and my approach to my work. I find it more interesting and challenging to find drama in quieter situations and to try to instigate more questions from the viewer.

    I hope the work finds a place though amongst the other work of photographers covering equally important stories across the world.

    Panos, my friend… I remember that Charlottesville airport conversation well! Happy memories…

    Mike R….Yes, still photographing here. I have been based here for over 5 years now and intend to stay a lot longer and keep covering these issues in Asia.

    Carlo… Good for you. We just need to convince 1.4 billion people over here to do the same now!

  • Sean I normally like your work BUT this is not really good enough.I normally don’t care when the words and pictures don’t match here on Burn but these pictures don’t show deforestation or any of the problems associated with it. Come on you can do much better than this.

  • Sean,

    Have you had much exposure with the Mega-dams that China is building in Tibet?
    Is this something you will cover in the future?

  • Harry…Thank you for your honest and frank thoughts. Perhaps you might like to look at more images and writings from my travels on the Pulitzer website (link above). This should offer a broader picture of this chapter of my work and the work I did last summer.

    Carlo…I have photographed the 3 Gorges Dam but not the ones in Tibet. That region is often closed to foreigners but I hope to get there sometime soon. It’s definitely a very important issue.

  • To Sean,
    Beautifully shot project, well done.
    I am from China, and I’ve been to the Jiuzaigou National Park you photographed.
    The last picture of the set, however, confused me.
    As I remember, Jiuzaigou is a very well controlled park, which means it’s highly unlikely to allow tourists to jump in the water. Even the dam that the man jump from, should be a restricted access area. It’s not somewhere ordinary tourists can go in and jump into the water as they want. Also, I cannot imagine a logical reason for the man in the picture to jump into the water.

    With all respect, I don’t want to question the authenticity of such a beautiful shot.
    So please tell us more about why the man jumped into the water and what he was doing?

  • Very good piece on vimeo:

  • Sean Gallagher’s “Meltdown” is out as a FREE itunes book:

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