Archives for posts with tag: travel

In April, my husband and I honeymooned (thank you, Hollingsworth v. Perry) for two weeks in the south of England and Wales. We spent a few days in London on our own, based at St. Ermin’s Hotel just around the corner from Buckingham Palace, doing Tourist Things (theatre, the Tower, the British Museum, the British Library, Westminster Abbey, the fabulously old and author-frequented Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, a gaslight tour of the neighborhood around Parliament et cetera, et cetera), but the bulk of our time was spent being ferried about by our private guide, Michael Osborne (operating as Unique British Tours).

The great thing about engaging Michael was that we saw a whole different England than we would have seen on our own. Oh sure he took us to Stonehenge and Bath and Oxford, but we also drove off-highway along winding country roads that took us through alarmingly lovely little villages, complete with thatched-roofed houses in which real people actually live. He arranged overnights for us in assorted Wolsey Lodges (unique “luxury” bed-and-breakfasts that were mostly repurposed olde manor homes–including a horse farm in the country, a village great house, and (by far the best one) a converted 12th century mill) and a modern four-star hotel overlooking Cardiff Bay. He showed us things we hadn’t expected to see, like Avebury, a World Heritage Site with aged and worn monoliths that–unlike the more popular Stonehenge–visitors can actually wander up to and touch. He hosted us for beer at local village pubs and for a fancy-pants (and delicious) afternoon tea at the stately Manor House Hotel in Castle Combe.

Hazeland Mill in Wiltshire

Hazeland Mill, Bremhill, Calne, Wiltshire–the best of the places we stayed!

Of course pictures were taken, and since that’s what this blog is supposed to be about, let’s get to it. I hope some of these come off as something somewhat north of vacation snaps (for all our sakes). So Let the Travel Photography Begin!

For more travel and other photography, click here: www.ebutterfieldphotography.com

Big Ben at Night

Big Ben at Night

Tower Bridge viewed through a window

Tower Bridge viewed from the Tower of London

Gaslit street in Westminster, London

Gaslit street at night in Westminster, London

Gears in a mill in Wiltshire

Mill gears in a 12th-century mill in Wiltshire

Oxford Street

Street in Oxford

Avebury monoliths

Avebury monoliths

Close-up view of Lewis Chessmen in the British Museum

12th-century Lewis Chessmen, British Museum, London

Fan vaulting in the nave of Bath Abbey, Bath

Fan vaulting in the nave of Bath Abbey, Bath

Ruins of Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales

Tintern Abbey, Monmouthshire, Wales

Cardiff Bay, viewed from the St David's hotel

Cardiff Bay, viewed from the St David’s Hotel

Exeter College, Oxford

Exeter College, Oxford

Raven in the Tower of London

Raven in the Tower of London

Interior of the clock tower at Bath Abbey

Interior of the clock tower at Bath Abbey

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Cardiff Castle, Cardiff, Wales

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

 

For more travel and other photography, click here: www.ebutterfieldphotography.com

It’s holiday time, and that means it’s time for the shameless shilling of stuff folks can spend their hard-earned on, as part of the general giving-and-receiving frenzy driven by the awesome power of marketing and celebrating some vaguely religio-pagan festival now buried deep beneath several cubic tons of stringlights, plastic Santas, snowflakes, animatronic elves, tinsel, Internet banners, and catalogs. In the spirit of the holiday, and not being above a bit of shameless shilling myself, I’ve partnered with a website that offers my photos in the form of various-sized prints, greeting cards, phone cases (and presumably t-shits, mousepads, tea cozies, and festive personalized facial tattoos).

In my defense, at least I’m telling you right off the bat that this post is a blatantly self-promotional advertisement, so you can ignore it at your leisure.

Actually, beyond that, there’s not much else to say that wouldn’t come across as Home Shopping Network filler bloviation (“Oh I seriously can’t say enough about all the wonderful things you can do with a print of this photo of a duck: why, you can hang it on your wall–and not just one wall, mind you, but virtually, literally any wall in your house, and I don’t mean just tastefully cookie-cuttered single-family detached homes on cul-de-sacs  in the suburbs, no: you can hang this on a living room wall, or a kitchen wall, or a bathroom wall, or a hall wall in any sort of house at all, from the tiniest New York studio to the most magnificent hundred-thousand square-foot beachfront palace in Malibu, and every trailer house, walk-up, duplex, condo, rent-controlled apartment, or barracks in between; and if you don’t like ducks at all that won’t make any difference either, since we also have photographs of mountains, flowers, grasshoppers, shirtless men, and people in vaguely Victorian costume wearing goggles and looking menacing…”) so it’s best I don’t say anything at all.

Here’s the site: Fine Art America. More photos will be uploaded over time.

Here are the direct links to some of the site categories, and some samples of my photos in each category, because the holiday time is all about giving.

steampunk prints

antiqued steampunk image

aerial photos

Aerial View, Great Salt Lake, Utah

bird photos

blue jay on a fence rail

nature photos

Wet Water Avens

close-up photos

Close-up view of a snail

male photos / nude photos

Nude male model with black censoring bars

travel photos

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<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/all/steampunk/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>steampunk art</a>, <a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/male/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>male photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/aerial/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>aerial photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/bird/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>bird photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/nude/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>nude photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/nature/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>nature photos</a>,<a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/all/travel/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>travel art</a>, <a href=”http://fineartamerica.com/art/photographs/close-up/all&#8221; style=”font: 10pt arial; text-decoration: underline;”>close-up photos</a>

I’m currently winding up a week-long business trip to New Brunswick, NJ, and I didn’t bring my camera this time. Thing is, I learned some time ago that this particular series of meetings involves being locked away in hotel ballrooms, which are generally not photogenic, and since New Jersey in November is not a welcoming climate for this thin-blooded, hothouse flower of a Southern Californian, there’s little allure to wandering the undoubtedly charming streets outside. Other business trips, however, have offered more photogenic opportunities both inside and out. I take my job very seriously, of course, but in any business trip there can usually be a little time to venture outside a bit to see what’s up within a block or two of the hotel. So today, some examples, in no particular order, of some of the photos I’ve taken wherever my work-related travels have taken me…

Glazed clay Buddhas lining a wall of the White Dagoba, Beihai Park, Beijing

Glazed clay Buddhas lining a wall of the White Dagoba, Beihai Park, Beijing (meeting of conference organizers)

Interior of Aldred Building, Montreal

Interior of the Aldred Building, at 509 Place d’Armes, Montreal (board meeting series)

Elevator bank and walkways of the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, Georgia.

Elevator bank and walkways of the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, Georgia (board meeting series).

Chihuly, "Ikebana Boat" at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art

Chihuly, “Ikebana Boat” at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art (conference)

Plaza surrounding the Indiana Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument, Indianapolis, Indiana

Plaza surrounding the Indiana Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument, Indianapolis, Indiana (conference)

Farmer selling dates by the side of a country road north of Beijing, China trip II

Farmer selling dates by the side of a country road north of Beijing, China trip II (conference)

Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts.

Public Garden, Boston, Massachusetts (board meeting series) Setting up for a wedding photograph at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka, Japan

Setting up for a wedding photograph at Kushida Shrine in Fukuoka, Japan (conference)

Today’s low-tech randomizer brought me to a series of photos taken during a business trip to Fukuoka, Japan in March 2012. The three photos here really expressed a lot of “Japan-ness” for me. Let’s see what they are…

First, this is just somebody’s front porch. I was walking around sidestreets in the city and came across this home. With the paper lantern, bicycles, architecture, and umbrella, it dredged up fond (but now disturbingly distant) childhood memories of storybooks and National Geographic articles about Japan. Obviously, Japanese culture cannot be boiled down to a doorway somewhere in Japan’s sixth-largest city, but for me it was a strangely expressive moment.

doorway in Fukuoka Japan with bicycles, umbrellas, and a paper lantern

Next, a detailed view of Jotenji Temple, built in 1242:

Jotenji Temple roof

And finally, sticking with the temple theme, the Tochoji Buddha is the largest seated Buddha statue in Japan (10m, or about 33 feet high) . The title of this photo, “Big Buddha” is absolutely not disrespectful: there is a sign at the foot of the stairway leading to the statue that reads: “Big Buddha is Upstairs.” This photo is also contraband: I was asked (after taking the photo) to please not photograph the Buddha. Given the absence of signage prohibiting photography, and there having been no direct request to actually delete the photos I’d taken, and having made a generous donation to the temple restoration fund, I don’t feel particularly bad about it. (Hm, it appears we have met the Ugly American, and he’s closer to home than we’d care to discuss.)

Big Buddha

(All photos were taken with a Nikon D90)

My plan for this series in LensCaps at the start was twofold: First, to force myself to blog more regularly (I have found that like flossing and New Years’ Resolutions, it is extremely unlikely that I will commit to blog regularly after the initially burst of enthusiasm unless there’s some outside force compelling me: a pricey personal trainer makes me a much more constant gym membership user, and a public statement that I’m embarking on a numbered series of posts makes me feel guilty if I miss a day or two); and B, to feature older photographs that haven’t been featured lately (selected at random via an unscientific method of using the mouse wheel and random clicks in an index).

So what happens right after RPOTD #3? I go on a business trip to Oklahoma City, and posting to the blog becomes difficult, and it falls off the earth. Literally threes of devoted readers are if not mildly disappointed, at least somewhat aware of the break.

And then what do I do? I come back, and immediately violate the Highly Scientific Random Photo Algorithm. Today’s photos are from my recent trip, and I just thought it was cool that a couple of them were inadvertently sort of thematically linked, which is serendipitous, which is kinda like random, so I guess we’re OK.

This is the Devon Energy Center, at 52 stories the tallest building in Oklahoma City and tied for being the 39th tallest in the US. Architects were Pickard Chilton Architects Inc. The building itself is nice (if a little ridiculously out of scale with the rest of Oklahoma City (see the aerial view), but I really loved the morning sun peeking from behind it.

Devon Energy Building

The aforementioned aerial view:

Aerial view of Oklahoma City

The other “sunshine” photo is also an aerial, taken as I flew over California on my way back home (thank you, United, for the upgrade!), I was baffled by these three shiny objects on the ground below, and had to do a little webbly investigation to determine what it was that I’d been looking at. It is, in fact, the Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System (ISEGS), near Nipton, southwest of Las Vegas. It’s the largest solar plant in the world, generating 377 megawatts by using mirrors to focus the sunlight on solar receivers on top of the central power towers (can we tell I think this is really cool?). The three plants together generate enough power to serve 140,000 homes during peak hours, and reduce CO2 emissions by over 400,000 tons annually. (Source: BrightSource)

Aerial view of Ivanpah Solar array

More non-random randomness. Well, to be specific: the selection of the initial photo is totally random; it just seems that sometimes a couple of photos around it, or that I know are related to it, come to mind and I just can’t help myself with making little photographic statements, because the synergies just amuse me. This little exercise is quickly evolving into something not entirely random, but that’s just me being a control freak. Anyway, let’s look at three kinds of China: ancient, recently modern, and contemporarily futuristic, all of which seem to live together happily in the People’s Republic in a big ol’ chunky melting pot of old and new.

First, the Great Wall. specifically the “Wild Wall” (Simatai-Jinshanling) section in the Shuiguan Mountains, about an hour outside Beijing. (Photo taken September 2012 with a Nikon D90)

Great Wall of China

Next on our itinerary, a vendor selling figs on the side of a road out in the countryside somewhere in the general vicinity of Beijing. The figs were excellent, but there’s a lot of serious history in that face and uniform. (Photo taken September 2012 with a Nikon D90)

Fig seller wearing People's Army uniform

And finally, because the whole point of this Random POTD thing is brevity in the name of maintaining consistency, the fabulous “Bird’s Nest”, formally known as the Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008). Day view from from Main Lake. (Photo taken September 2012 with a Nikon D90)

Bird's Nest Stadium in Beijing

 

Here we go again, although I suppose it’s not quite actually “random” if I’ve applied a theme. Anyway, this time, let’s look up.

First, the rotunda of the Indiana State House in Indianapolis. Built in 1888 and designed by architect Edwin May, (Photo taken with a Nikon D7000 with a Nikon DX 18-105 lens, September 2013)

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Below, the rotunda of the Elks National Veterans Memorial in Chicago, taken in 2006 with a Nikon E880, back in the very early days of me taking pictures of things.  Egerton Swartwout, architect (1926).

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Finally, the next photo is of the central rotunda of the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.,  Hornblower & Marshall, architects (1910). Taken in May 2009 with a Nikon D80. And below that, the rotunda of the United States Capitol in Washington, DC. (Charles Bullfinch, Architect, 1824), featuring “The Apotheosis of George Washington” fresco by Constantino Brumidi (1865). Photo taken with a Nikon D80 in May, 2009.

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For a wider selection of randomness, visit my online gallery: EButterfield Photography.

Chinese national flag and Bird's Nest stadium, viewed from the Convention Center

The Bird’s Nest viewed from the Beijing Convention Center

(This is Part Two in a series of photography blogs about my recent travels to China.)

During my last business trip to Beijing, I stayed at The Beijing North Star Continental Grand Hotel, which is connected by a sort of maze-like afterthought of a hallway to the Beijing Convention Center. The hotel sits about two blocks from Olympic Park (Aolinpike Gongyuan – 奥林匹克公园), the site of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. To get there, one takes one’s life in one’s hands and scurries as quickly as ever so possible across Bei Chen Dong Lu, pausing on the traffic island under the entrance ramp to Ring Road 4, then ambles through a cluster of food vendors, takes the slightly wooded path around the public restroom building, and thence through the turnstiles to the main entrance to the Park. This, you’ll recall, is where the breathtakingly phenomenal Opening Ceremonies of the 2008 Olympics were held in the striking Bird’s Nest (formally “National”) stadium  (Niǎocháo – 鸟巢). You remember those: 2,008 drummers beating illuminated drums in perfect unison; a synchronized salute to movable type; the deflating sense, that grew as the evening unfolded, that the phrase “Opening Ceremonies” was being redefined right before your eyes, and that a dozen grinning children in traditional national costumes performing indigenous folk dances while rhythmic gymnasts twirled long ribbons and a pop singer sang something about this-is-the-moment were just not going to cut it anymore, opening-ceremonies-wise. This was where that happened.

Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing at night

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008).

Sometimes a famous landmark fails to live up to one’s inflated expectations when seen in real life. I remember my first impression of the Coliseum in Rome being, “but it’s so small…”, my mental image of the ruin having been forged by movie sets and CGI models that made the Coliseum appear, well, vastly more colossal than it actually is. The Bird’s Nest, not so much. It really is quite a gorgeous piece of architecture, carefully placed in its surroundings with an eye to the Chinese fondness for feng shui.

Bird's Nest stadium reflected in Main Lake, Beijing

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008), viewed across Main Lake.

“Feng shui” (風水) is an interesting, ancient concept that I shall proceed to butcher through simplification here. Basically, it’s a philosophy governing the mindful placement of structures and their components in a way that is both aligned with the natural elements of their surroundings and harmonious with more esoteric considerations. The result of successful feng shui design is the creation of auspicious conditions for the inhabitants and a generally more pleasing environment for everyone. The idea dates back, like practically everything else in China, it sometimes seems, to before 4000 BC. So it’s not a trendy new idea despite its current popularity with some interior designers. The phrase feng shui refers to wind and water—elements that naturally flow when unimpeded, or back up and create unpleasant pressures and inconvenient consequences when blocked. Feng shui attempts to enhance the free flow of elemental energies through and around structures.

You can see feng shui at work in the Olympic Park, where architectural and natural elements are intentionally placed to interact with one another. A winding, lily-lined, man-made lake (that’s designed to resemble the 2008 Olympic torch) reflects the Bird’s Nest in about as perfectly aesthetically balanced a way as one could want. The Bird’s Nest itself is an artificial concrete and steel object made to resemble a natural, nurturing one; an open structure that allows air and light to flow freely through its body, creating constantly changing patterns of light and shadow. (You can also see feng shui at work in the rhythmic flow of progressing through the Forbidden City (more on that later), and, as I wrote about here, in the way the Great Wall hugs the mountaintop terrain over which it winds.)

Beijing National Stadium, reflected in Main Lake at night,

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. Architects: Herzog & de Meuron,Stefan Marbach, Ai Weiwei, and Li Xinggang (2008), reflected in Main Lake at night. There’s a convenient fence surrounding the lake that makes a serviceable tripod for long-exposure night photography.

Back at the Olympic Park, you can see feng shui at work in the Beijing National Aquatics Center (popularly referred to as the “Water Cube”), where Michael Phelps swam to multi-medalled glory. A building that physically embodies the “wind and water” of feng shui, it’s a high-tech construction of more than 4000 thin, inflated plastic bladders mounted on different sized frames surrounding a pool: literally a box of air containing water. Unlike the Bird’s Nest, the Aquatics Center’s ETFE walls have not aged particularly well in the punishing weather and pollution of Beijing, and now have the powdery dullness of a grocery bag snagged in a tree when viewed in the harsh light of day. At night, though, the Center glows with a blue iridescence.

National Aquatics Center, Beijing

National Aquatics Center (“Water Cube”). Architects: PTW Architects (Australia) (2008).

Bird's Nest and Water Cube at night

Beijing National Stadium, Olympic Green (Aolinpike Gongyuan), Beijing. and the National Aquatics Center (“Water Cube”), at night. Note how the wall around the stadium resembles the Water Cube’s geometry.

Coming soon: Forbidden!

Detail of beaded crown

Ming Ritual Crown (detail), Changling Tomb, Yongle Emp. Zhudi (1360-1424)

(This is Part One in a series of photography blogs about my recent travels to China.)

I like going to China. I like watching the constant chaos of Beijing, where affluent modernism and something akin to centuries-old village life are all jumbled up together; where impressively aggressive sidewalk salesmen insist that I must buy five designer knock-off wallets right now, steps away from Burberry and Versace and in sight of a big red banner that extols us all to “Respect Intellectual Property Rights; Be Law-abiding Vendors;” where there’s food everywhere, and most of it delicious. Where western consumer-capitalism, Mao’s little red book, and 5000 years of civilization are all stirred together into something that’s clearly…well, that’s clearly something happening, although it’s hard to tell what, exactly, it currently is or may turn out to be.

Of course there are inevitable downsides, in human and political terms, to being the engine that feeds the world market’s insatiable desire for inexpensive clothing and shiny new electronics. And the air in Beijing can sometimes be so thick and gray that tunneling tools are necessary (the government insists that it’s “fog,” but it’s “fog” that’s been subtly scented by the five million cars currently clogging Beijing’s highways, and the coal-fired factories that ring the city). We’ve seen all this before, of course, with equally appalling results, in 19th century Europe and America when they were becoming the centers of world industry.

Anyway, maybe it’s the social effect of having forty years of isolation lifted (in historical terms) overnight, or maybe it comes from living in an economic behemoth that owns much of the rest of the world, or the confidence that comes from having had a thriving civilization at the time when my ancestors painted themselves with mud and threw rocks at each other, but I’ve found the people to be unfailingly polite and friendly and welcoming. And that’s nice for a yi-traveler like myself.

(This is as good a place as any to note that “yi”  is  , a term for “non-Chinese easterner” or “non-Chinese” or “foreigner” that was unfortunately (and perhaps not entirely accurately) translated by English missionaries as “barbarian.” As a result, the word became a bone of much offended contention between the British Empire and the Qing Dynasty. Eventually, its use was strictly banned by the British under Article 51 of the rather one-sided 1858 Sino-British Treaty of Tianjin. [John Keay, China: A History, 2009])

So I just got back from another business trip to China. While I was there, before the conference began, I had the good fortune to do some sightseeing, both on my own and with a personal guide named Jet.  (The Olympic Park was in the immediate area of my hotel, so there was that, too, which I’ll write about in a later post). Jet drove me out to the area north and northwest of Beijing to see sights outside the city: the Ming Tombs and what he assured me would be—and definitely was—a “non-touristy” part of the Great Wall. Photos happened. And thus, this blog.

So for part of the Great Wall to be “non-touristy” pretty much means it will be difficult to get to. Many of the “touristy” sections of the Wall, like Badaling and Mutianyu have cable cars to comfortably carry visitors up the mountainside to where the Wall sits nicely perched along the ridge, crowded with tourists and loud, flag-carrying guides. Not so where Jet took me, and I couldn’t be happier about that. We drove past the Ming Tombs (more on those later) into the countryside, stopping in the village of Heishanzhai (“Black Mountain Village”) where we accessed what could be optimistically referred to as a trailhead by passing through a farmer’s backyard and paying a small entry fee to the family. Then began a hike that was frequently up a 60° to 70° slope with a minimal path comprised of mud, big rocks, and brambles.

Dam in the village at the trailhead to the "Wild Wall"

Dam in Heishanzhai at the trailhead to the “Wild Wall” about an hour north of Beijing.

Doorway in Heishanzhai

Doorway in the small farmstead at the trailhead up to the “Wild Wall” in Heishanzhai, about an hour northwest of Beijing.

The climb to the Wall was not so much a climb as a scramble along a quasi-clearing in the underbrush that was, I suppose, a “path” in the broadest sense. Rocks were climbed over, and young trees were clung to, and bad words were possibly muttered by Your Humble Narrator from time to time. About a quarter of the way up I was chiding myself for failing to engage in more cardio work  at the gym. About halfway up the mountainside we encountered the family’s elderly grandmother, to whom we paid an additional small fee. It shamed me deeply, with my sweaty shirt and panting breath and pounding heart, that somebody’s grandma had trotted up here ahead of us, and I resolved to redouble my visits to 24-Hour Fitness in the future. (I should mention that at all points along this challenging climb, my guide was patient and considerate and did not point at me and laugh at any time, or make me feel like anything other than a seasoned mountaineer. I should also mention that I undertook this little adventure of my own free will.) At the base of the Wall, I was confronted with a near-vertical stone stairway, and that was deeply disappointing.

What was definitely not disappointing was the Wall itself. Once up the mountainside and up the stairs, panting and sweating in a most yi-like manner, everything was worth the effort. There, sprawling across the ridges, running horizon to horizon, sat the Great Wall. And this was no postcard-prettified, cosmetically-restored Wall, either: unreconstructed, marginally maintained, it’s sat there since the 15th century growing gracefully old. I loved that it was a little crumbly and worse for wear: that’s what a structure that’s 500 years old should look like, not the postcard-perfect version. Much as I’d cursed on the way up, I blessed my guide for getting me here. This “Wild Wall” was, in fact, pretty great. (It was Richard Nixon in 1972 who, during his historic visit to China, stood on the Wall at Badaling and announced, “This is indeed a great wall.” He later faced impeachment for obstruction of justice, but I think the phenomenal banality of that quote could have been sufficient on its own to justify removal from office.) I was even more impressed when Jet reminded me that people had carried each of the stone blocks up the mountainside to build the Wall’s 6,000 miles of fortification. “Many died during the work,” he said. “They are buried in the wall.” I stopped whining about climbing with a Nikon around my neck, silenced by the ghosts of an estimated 5 to 6 million builders.

China's Great Wall ("Wild Wall" area) near Heishanzhai

China’s Great Wall (“Wild Wall” area) near Heishanzhai

View from a watchtower on the Great Wall

View from a watchtower on the Great Wall

Watchtower on the Great Wall

Watchtower on the Great Wall

Our trip up to the Wall was bracketed by visits to two of the Ming Tombs (明十三陵; Míng shísān líng, “Thirteen Tombs of the Ming Dynasty”) . These are the last resting places of the Ming Dynasty Emperors: the Wanli Emperor Zhu Yizhun (1572-1620) at Dingling, and the Yongle Emperor Zhudi (1360-1424) at Changling. Architecturally, they look a lot like the Forbidden City, which was also built by the busy Mings, who if nothing else were aesthetically consistent. The Mings were intent on carrying their goodies with them into the next world, and so the tombs were crammed with the pottery, jewelry, decorations, and royal paraphernalia now on display in the Hall of Eminent Favor.  The Hall covers over 21,000 sq. ft, and  each of  its 32 huge pillars is made from a single tree trunk.

Ceiling and columns in the Hall of Eminent Favor, Changling

Ceiling and columns in the Hall of Eminent Favor

Empress's crown

Empress’ crown, unearthed from Dingling Tomb, displayed at Changling. The crown features blue bird feathers and over 3500 pearls.

jade tea kettle

Jade Kettle unearthed from Dingling Tomb, Wanli Emp. Zhu Yizhun (1572-1620) and displayed at Changling.

The Tombs are scattered over a pretty vast area, but there’s a common entrance that is suitably formal and serene, called the Sacred Way, or Divine Road. The willow-shaded road is lined with statues including a dozen large-than-life human figuress representing scholars, civil officials, and generals, along with  lions, camels, elephants, horses, and mythological xiezhi and qilin, each depicted in multiple standing and sitting poses. The archway at the entrance is the largest such structure in China. Needless to say, it was a photo opportunity.

Statues lining the Sacred Way, Ming Tombs

Statue representing a Civil Official, Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs (Changling Sacred Way)

Statue of a horse on the Sacred Way, Ming Tombs

Statue of a horse on the Sacred Way of the Ming Tombs (Changling Sacred Way)

One final word about my guide. Jet was friendly and casual, knew his history (and his way up a mountainside), and was constantly thoughtful of my interests and comfort. He didn’t lead me on a rote tour, but lingered where I wanted to, passed by what he (usually rightly) suspected I didn’t really care about, and was unfailingly delightful to travel with. (He was also a very safe driver!) For me, traveling with a Chinese person was invaluable: he knew what restaurant to go to out in a rural village and what food to order; he knew how to negotiate with souvenir vendors and farmers by the roadside selling dates and chestnuts and persimmons; he wasn’t shy about leading me past (or through) the large group tours that clogged the Tombs—he was just generally terrific. If you’re planning a trip to China, and have time for a tour, I couldn’t be more enthusiastic about recommending him. You can get in touch with him here or by clicking anywhere on the photo below.

Jet at the Changling Ming Tomb

Jet patiently waiting while I take pictures of things at the Ming Tombs, Changling

Next time: Evan Goes to the Olympics

It recently occurred to me in a rare moment of clarity that I haven’t posted on this blog for a while. I know that both my readers were despondent about this, and after initially assuring themselves that I was enjoying a fabulous eco-tour of some exotic location, undoubtedly fell into the inescapable conclusion that I’d been abducted by bug-eyed and throbbing-brained alien invaders with a proclivity for probing; or been dragged off by gaily-clad gypsies and forced to participate in traditional woodland dances and fits of fortune-telling; or perhaps I had fallen into a deep, deep hole. Rest easy, gentle readers, for none of these terrible things befell me. Nope, I’m just Lazy. And don’t think for a moment that I haven’t been thinking about you all this time, and scolding myself for being a Bad Blogger.

I can only offer the following series of excuses:

1. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the London Olympics, and then sat glued to NBC’s selective coverage, utterly enthralled by all the leaping, bounding, diving, and whatnot; and/or

2. I spent several weeks in breathless anticipation of the Mars Science Laboratory (“Curiosity”) landing on Mars, and became so obsessed that I forgot to eat, and then sat riveted to NASA-TV’s livefeed from Mission Control, becoming alternatively misty-eyed and hysterical as Curiosity survived the Seven Minutes of Terror; and/or

3. I spent a great deal of time in airports, on airplanes, and in hotel conference rooms being all Serious and Business-y; and/or

3. I spent several weeks mesmerized by the civil, adult, substantive and insightful policy debates engaged in by the various candidates for US President, and had to take many days just to parse the intricacies of the detailed and thoughtful plans they’ve laid out for the nation’s future.

(OK, that last one’s just silly.)

Whatever the reason for my Bad Bloggerishness (Bad Bloggeritude? Bad Bloggery?) there has nonetheless been time to do some photography, which is what I write about here. And since I continue to bask in my delusional, narcissitic, and potentially psychotic fantasy that anyone in the world cares about what I’ve been doing, I shall then proceed as per usual to revel in the minutiae of the minorest of my daily activities.

Southern California Blues. The biggest benefit of having to travel quite a bit for work, aside from the whole meeting-new-people and broadening-one’s-horizons thing, is the opportunity for more (I think) interesting aerial photography. I try to make it a point to sit by a window (this is a wise move for three reasons: 1) for photographic purposes; 2) because no one climbs over you to get to the lavatory;  and 3) because the bulkhead is nice to lean against, and adds an inch or two more personal space—you’re welcome for that little Travel Tip.) Anyway here’s the coastline of Southern California shortly after takeoff from John Wayne International Airport in Santa Ana:

Southern California coastline

Tentpole. I like architecture, and this photo from Denver International Airport is a good demonstration of why: Not only is it functional (the pylon is holding up the tent-like roof of the terminal) but it’s attractive. And what’s more, given the right angle of approach, it becomes a nice display of abstract geometry, divorced from its actual purpose. As a photographer, that’s one of my favorite things to do: get so close up to something (in the case of macros), or so far away (in the case of aerial views of the desert Southwest) or so particularly angled (like here) that the thing being photographed loses its “thingness” and becomes something new: a collection of lines and angles and colors, for instance. But enough about that. Here’s a picture from DIA:

Support pylon at Denver International Airport

Please Come to Boston. I took a little business trip to Boston, and snuck out on a rainy morning to see what was up in the Public Garden. This swan boat seemed a lovely thing, and the water droplets are, to me, quite nice.

 Swan Boat iin Boston's Public Garden

OK, possibly Shocking Displays of Skin below (probably safe for work, unless you work in a church).

You’ve been Warned.

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Tough Guy. I continue my efforts to pursue portrait photography using the nice little home studio equipment I acquired not all that long ago. James wanted a series of photos taken that looked “model-y” and showed off his physical assets, so that was a fun project for a summer afternoon. (More of these here)

Shirtless male model with sunglasses

Daddy Bear. One thing seems to lead to another in this interwoven, interconnected, interdependent world we wander through, and shortly after James I found myself photographing Andre for what were to be some more…personal photos. This is one of the tamer ones. Interestingly (although not surprisingly to anyone who’s been to an International Mister Leather event and heard the big scary-looking S&M guys chatting about recipes and window treatments) Andre is not nearly as intimidating as he looks: he’s actually quite sweet and funny (I think this actually captures that a little bit), and the shoot was a lot of fun. (More of these here)

Male model in leather vest and codpiece

So that was what I’ve been doing for the last couple of months. I shall endeavor to be a more courteous and consistent correspondent in the future. With upcoming business trips to Beijing, Florida, New Jersey, and Belgium, plus whatever photogenic models wander my way, there will no doubt be much more to write about. And anyway there’s always Gimli The Cat:

Cat staring, reflected in tabletop

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