An enormous grin spreads across her face. A photo of a girl with the bright smile holding a vial of Sinovac Biotech's Corona-Vac has become the focus of international media. As more countries embrace Chinese vaccines to fight COVID-19, I feel deeply honored that I photographed the girl and that photo has been published widely in the media.
On June 23, 2020, I was on a mission to photograph one of Sinovac Biotech's laboratory in Beijing's Shangdi area. Over the past two decades, the company has developed and commercialized six human-used vaccines and one animal vaccine, and advanced its R&D pipeline. During the filming, one of the personnel at Sinovac Biotech took out a novel coronavirus model and several vials of vaccines from his bag, and said that they could be used as props in my photos. I took the vaccine with a doubtful look, carefully examined it and said excitedly: "This is the real vaccine, the one that can be vaccinated?" "Yes, it has reached the second-phase clinical trial," the man said.
After disinfection, we brought the flashlight into the laboratory for lighting and metering. And then we took a few photographs of their staff, but I couldn't help thinking that there was something missing. At that very moment, a girl with an attractive smile came from outside, and upon asking I learned that the girl Li Yuexian is also a staff member of the laboratory. We invited her to work as a temporary model for the filming.
For a person without any modeling experience, she exudes full affinity with her smiling face, and I found that extremely precious. I didn't ask her to pose much for the camera. I just told her to lift the vaccine vial up in front of her face. Then I started chatting with her. And her sensuous smile turned out to be even more touching than I expected. Her youthful sparkling eyes reflect spontaneous innocence to make you feel real sympathy and affection. This is the smile from the inside out, expressing true feelings, naturally and powerfully. This photo was later recognized and became a business card for Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac.
As a photographer who has been cooperating with Sinovac Biotech for more than 10 years, I have by far visited their COVID-19 vaccine production base eight times since 2020. In camera perspective, I have recorded the construction, equipment installation and commissioning, production, and transnational shipping at the vaccine production base. I have witnessed the birth of Sinovac Biotech's CoronaVac.
When I visited Sinovac Biotech's production base in Beijing's Daxing district for the first time, I had realized that this was the very production workshop of the COVID-19 vaccine. At that time, all the facilities except for the building frame were under construction, and the production equipment was also being tested, installed, and debugged one after another.
The construction was well underway. The construction of the base started on March 29. By the time of my fifth visit on Oct 15, the office building had already taken on a new look. The first phase of the Corona-Vac had already been completed and put into use, and the second phase was in full swing.
There were so many things I had great feelings of during the entire filming. After getting into the workshop, I had a real sense of walking through a maze because of the high similarity of the passages. Each area in the workshop is independent, and even the air is independently tested.
New protective clothing and disinfection are required when entering and exiting each area. Sometimes it is necessary to change more than 10 times in half a day, and there is this feeling of not knowing where you are. It is reported that in the crude liquid workshop where the highest level of protection is mandatory, even skilled staff will take more than 10 minutes to put on at least four layers of protection gear, and some require the assistance of colleagues.
By last November, the first batch of finished products of the Corona-Vac were shipped from Sinovac Biotech's Daxing production base to Brazil, and I recorded the whole process of the vaccine shipment.
The photographer's narrative is translated by Zhang Lei.