Shanghai, China. April 2013.
Between Shanghai and Beijing, China. April 2013.
|I like trees.
Apparently I am also allergic to them, but whatever.
I like the way light falls between them in streaks and patches and flickering shimmers and long shadows like roads to vanishing fairy-lands. How they cut light into shafts that transect the trodden paths and the spaces between. I like how strong trees are and how tall and how even old trees somehow smell new. I like the way they reach up and down at the same time. I like the way they move, bending, swaying without losing ground. I like the way they creak.
It was a tree in Texas that taught me the value of the smallest patch of shade.
I like the connectedness of trees when they grow together in forests. I like their defiance when they grow by themselves. I like trees that grow, impossibly, through fences and from sheer faces of limestone and granite.
These trees grew in the moments between dust patches on the journey from Shanghai to Beijing. I didn’t catch their story as we sped by, just a vertical impression, a thin stand against the speed of flight and the unsettling of dust.
Between Shanghai and Beijing. April 2013.
|The truth is, there’s not that much to see. We often take trains when we can as a way of seeing a cross-section of the country we’re traveling in. We booked passage on the train from Shanghai to Beijing and when we took our places, we found them at the end of the train, in a car with only four seats and big windows. The sightseeing car.
But in five and a half hours, the sights were remarkably homogenous. There were what felt like three minutes of rocky hills, and seven minutes of coastal wetlands, and the rest of the time, we sped through a dusty brown landscape of farmland only occasionally sewn with crops. But the oddest thing to my foreign eyes, was the construction. There were highrises that looked to be apartment blocks being built amid the wash of brown dust and yellow air, near no other building town or village on the flat horizon. Something about it felt like science fiction, like a premonition of Blade Runner or the ending of Mad Max where the lost children find their way home to the desolate skeleton of a once-great city.
Shanghai, China. April 2013.
|I’m not really a gearhead. I like technology; I like the things it allows me to do, but I’m not one of those people who can recite a litany of brand names and model numbers. I don’t name my gear after women or think of it as my baby.
I used to be fastidious about my camera care. I’d clean it before every shoot with lens paper and fluid and a lens-pen and blower. And then I really started to travel and that’s a lot of stuff to carry around and it was always awkward to break out a cleaning routine in the middle of a temple somewhere just because I wanted to change lenses. So I stopped being so fastidious and as you might expect, my images got dirty.
But what I didn’t expect was that the mistakes I’d tried so hard to avoid for so many years–—things being out of focus, things being blurred by shaky hands, lens flares from pointing into the sun, having dust and dirt on the lens–—that these things would become what I find the most interesting in my photography.
I took these shots in the old town in Shanghai, near the old tea houses and the Yuyuan Gardens. It was a gorgeous day with gorgeous light, but mostly what I like about these shots is the overexposure, the lens flares and the light artifacts cast by the spots of dust on the lens. I like the texture, like confetti and fairydust. I like the feeling of squinting into the sun, the idea of something too brilliant to look at directly.
Beijing, China. April 2013.
|Of the Ying and the Yang, the Yang is held to be the positive. It is also the hard, the active, the logical and the male. And the odd. Numbers, that is. Our docent tells us that because they are Yang, the Chinese value the odd numbers from one to nine highly, the numbers greater than nine being some combination of the numbers less than ten. In particular, they value the number five because it is in the middle of the odd numbers from one to nine, and the middle is the most stable, most true position. So the gates to the Forbidden City all have five openings, even if you can only see three of them from a distance. There are five sets of stairs and five bridges over the rivers, but no one walks on the middle path. The middle path is the path of the star, the path of the emperor.
The Chinese also have a special reverence for the number nine, because, well, because it is the biggest of the odd numbers and everyone loves a superlative. Each of the five sets of doors in any gate in the Forbidden City is studded with nine rows of nine gold studs.
We worked our way through the fives and nines, among the thousands of visitors, until our docent point up and showed us the only occurrence of a ten. The corners of the roofs are adorned with little animal figures, more like action figures than gargoyles, little bipedal animals that face out in neat lines. The more animals, the more important the building, the more important the people in the building. At most, there can be nine animal figures. Except on the roof of the throne room. The throne room is the highest building in the Forbidden City, raised on a dias, its nine doors closed. At each corner of the roof, ten animals look out over the crowd. It’s hard to see from the ground, but I think the tenth might be seated in a chair.
Pouch Cove, Newfoundland, Canada. July 2012.
|It’s that time of year in the life of a school where our sleep is filled with dreams of summer, that summer of cool drinks tickling the throat on hot days, that summer of south winds and stars and evenings with the live music of nearby bars spilling into the ears of quiet cafes with rich desserts and the company of friends it’s been too long since last seen, that summer of canola fields and strawberries and bookstores in a language you understand, that summer which remains painfully at the other end of the-pile-of-things-you-need-to-do, tasks that take longer with every hour of sleep stolen from the time it takes to just-get-it-done.
In last year’s summer dream, we lived for a moment in a red house on a high cliff where the tall grass bent like the paint-licked bristles of a green-white brush in a chase of wind that sprinted with exigent indifference.
I slipped from the house one night before bed, saying I wanted to take a couple of photographs, that I’d be back in a few minutes, knowing it would be more like half an hour. Three hours later, closer to 3am than 2, I crept back home.
There’s a stillness in the middle of the night that’s magic, an openness to the world without its lid on, a sense of big that it seems an offense to be unconscious of. I took these photographs in the vacant lot next to the little red house and the skies kept moving and morphing into ever more beautiful patterns and rhythms and the moon and the stars kept shining through on the slumber of the town. A whale I couldn’t see passed near enough for me to hear it exhale and the wind wrapped everything in its urgent whispers until the gravity of exhaustion won out and dragged me home into an entirely different begrudging kind of sleep.
Beijing, China. April 2013.