78 x 52 cm
Covering Asia’s multi-billion dollar wildlife trade for National Geographic, Mark Leong travelled to ten different countries over a three year period. He photographed bears pumped for bile in Hanoi, pythons skinned in Sumatra, tigers farmed in Guilin and orangutans orphaned in Borneo. Of all the animals he saw on this assignment, he had only ever consumed one – shark.
Growing up as an American-Chinese kid near San Francisco, Mark Leong attended a number of Chinatown wedding banquets, and they all served shark fin soup. His aunts and uncles told him to finish his soup because the fins were expensive. Today, Leong tells his children not to eat the soup because sharks are valuable.
This exhibition is not about past guilt. Nor is it intended to point fingers at tradition or people who earn their livelihood in the finning industry. No, this is about improving our future by modifying our own behaviour now. You don’t have to be a lover of sea creatures to understand that decimating shark populations is putting our planet out of balance. You don’t have to be an economist to see that if we consumers stop demanding, the suppliers will stop killing.
Mark Leong is a fifth-generation American-Chinese from Sunnyvale, California. After graduating from Harvard University in 1988, he was awarded a George Peabody Gardner Travelling Fellowship to spend a year taking pictures in his ancestral homeland. In 1992, he again visited China as an artist-in-residence at the Central Academy of Fine Art in Beijing, sponsored by a fellowship from the Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Foundation.
In 2003, Leong joined the Redux Pictures photo agency. His book China Obscura was published in 2004. In addition to National Geographic, his photographs have appeared in TIME, Fortune, The New York Times Magazine, Smithsonian, The New Yorker, GQ and Stern. His work has been recognised with awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fifty Crows, and the Overseas Press Club. In 2010 he was named the Veolia Wildlife Photojournalist of the Year for his regional coverage of the Asian wildlife trade.