A frame from a photo essay by Reuters photographer Aly Song featuring a day in the life of Xiao Cao, a 57-year-old gay man living in Shangahi. Cao spends his days dancing in public and here performs a routine in a Shanghai park dressed, or more specifically dragged up, as a Red Guard. The small park space becomes a personal stage, sunlight acting as a spotlight against the backdrop of dark foliage as he leaps gracefully, disregarded by all but the photographer and one bemused passerby.
What does Song want to say in this image? Before setting out to document the story his perception about gay Chinese before beginning the feature was "somewhat stereotypical...that they lived colourful and comfortable lives...I imagined two men sitting in a bar smoking cigars and drinking wine, possibly discussing fashion trends or gossiping about showbiz stars." More than three months worth of research changed Song's views as he found personal stories that reflected many people's search for love set within a community still fearful of openness featuring subjects reluctant to be photographed.
Cao's life appears still very much on the margins here, the image isolates him, suggesting he is often ignored and highly vulnerable; though, his performances typically draws a large crowd. For a man on the margins of his society dancing seems a silent act of bravery.
See more of Aly Song's images here
Sara Evans, travel picture editor for The Sunday Times (London) contributes a monthly blog about photographers and images that provoke reactions and response from viewers. Drawing from current professionals at work and amateurs carving out their own identity (with the odd foray into the past for further inspiration) we hope her commentary from 'the other side of the desk' prove insightful.