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Life: George Silk: Famine in China
The Hunan story was … the only thing I did in China that was worth a damn. Otherwise I think it was an ultra-reaction to the war. There was nothing to do, and so I did nothing, except drink and live it up, which was what everybody was doing.
After Japan surrendered, in 1945, I was lost … completely lost. Robert Capa had said to me, “What are you going to do, George, when the war ends? All you know how to do is photograph war.” He didn't mean to be mean, but it was true, and he spoke nothing but truths, and it really shocked me. It preyed on my mind. I had never worked for a newspaper. I'd never been a journalist—I'd been a farmer before the war. I milked cows night and day for two years.
In 1946 I went to China and … was suddenly dumped in the middle of this town, in the middle of a terrible famine, and people were lying in the gutters everywhere, dead or dying. We were immediately escorted into the center of town to the best restaurant and given a huge banquet, and these starving people were at the windows looking through at us. It was very hard to be there. I felt great sympathy, and I was powerless to do anything. Immediately after lunch, I set out to walk around the town to take pictures. I was quickly surrounded by several hundred people. We moved as a body, no matter where I went, but they would leave an opening in front for me. They knew I was taking pictures, or doing something, and needed to see. Suddenly here's this plump woman selling rice, and I'm taking a picture of her. Then, here comes this emaciated boy. I didn't put him there. Whether people in the crowd did, I don’t know. I didn't know what they were saying. I had no interpreter with me. Maybe in that sense, the people themselves set up the picture of the rice dealer and the boy. It's so weird for me, when I look at it, that there are only two people there, because I was surrounded by hundreds.”
(Interviewed May 21, 1993. Excerpted from: John Loengard, LIFE Photographers: What They Saw, Boston, A Bullfinch Press Book, 1998)