Over the course of fifteen years, countless people have shown their support to this little relay vigil. Some left their names, others did not. But they left all kinds of tokens, a bouquet of flowers, a cup of coffee, a slip of paper with a heartwarming message…
This French photographer named Phil Le Gal created a photo album of the meditators.
This took place seven years ago.
We tried to contact him, not knowing what to expect. To our surprise, he immediately agreed to our interview.
We met at a hotel conference room in downtown London. He showed up on time. When he sat in front of our camera, at first he felt uneasy. He said, usually he’s the one behind the camera.
He told me that when he decided to do the photo album, he contacted Sister Gao. Sister Gao didn’t give him permission right away. She said she wanted to meet with him first. “He is a very kind young man.” That’s Sister Gao’s impression of Phil.
“Ten years is such a long time. I wanted my series to convey that, and this is why I wanted to introduce this kind of repetition. This is why I framed my photographs kind of the same way.”
He spent 24 hours at the Vigil station, from about 10AM on Saturday to roughly the same time on Sunday morning. He took many photos every hour. Most shifts were 3-4 hours long, but the night shift that day was 6 hours. His photo album included 24 images of 6 Falun Gong practitioners, one image for each hour.
It was early spring, with less than 8 hours of sunlight, and a temperature of -5 degrees. London’s humidity made it even colder. During the day, Phil could take short breaks by warming himself up in a nearby coffee shop. But by midnight, all coffee shops had closed. The coldness became unendurable. The Falun Gong meditator working the night shift set up the tent and invited Phil to come inside. The next day, when the photoshooting finished at 10AM, Phil rushed to find a nearby inn and booked a room. Only after sleeping for a few hours did he recover from it.
“That showed me the determination of the protesters, and the weather condition they are facing everyday, every year; from very cold and wet condition.”
When Phil wasn’t taking photos, he chatted with the Falun Gong practitioners who had a shift that day. He asked them why they were doing this, and asked about their personal stories. He witnessed some unfriendly howlings from drivers passing by the Vigil station when they were waiting for the traffic lights. But more frequently, he saw heartwarming scenes: people who wrote down their signatures to support the meditators, people who chatted with them, and those who gave them food or coffee.
This is one of Le Gal’s earliest works. He felt a little sorry that it’s not one of his more mature works. But when he handed me his business card, I noticed on the back of it there was a photo, and it was none other than this photo of Sister Gao.
(This blog post is about the film Candlelight Across the Street. Click to watch the full film!)