Photo Series: Shanghai Tourism Tunnel Redeemed

Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 9

China possesses hundreds of man-made wonders that stagger the Western visitor…and a few wonders that fall a bit short. The Shanghai Tourism Tunnel is one of the latter. Connecting two popular visitor sights in Shanghai — the Bund and the Pearl Tower — with a tunnel under the Huangpu River, the light show along the mini-railway is a little underwhelming…until you see it through long exposures in a camera, that is. There, the lights and lines jump out at you in a psychedelic riot. It takes some experimenting to get the technique just right, and at 50 RMB a trip you want to catch on quickly. I gave it my best shot, and the results remind me of tie-dyed fabric.

Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 5
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 5
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 8
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 8
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 7
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 7
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 6
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 6
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 4
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 4
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 3
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 3
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 2
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 2
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 1
Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 1

 

Bagan, Before Sunrise

Bagan Before Sunrise

There are over 3,000 temples and shrines within a 10 km by 10 km area in the ancient city of Bagan, Myanmar. All are between 900 and 1300 years old, and yet none are in ruins. They have been scrupulously maintained as active Buddhist worship sites over the centuries by both locals and distant benefactors. But Bagan is flat and sprinkled with trees, and it is hard to appreciate the enormity of this undertaking from ground level. Going airborne in a hot-air balloon and seeing Bagan in the pre-dawn pastel mist provides a view that incorporates reality and fantasy in the same frame.

This photo came so close to not happening that the memory still gives me chills. In a foolish moment I had packed my spare batteries in a bag that was later lost by the airline. And in this part of the world, airlines don’t feel any particular obligation to unite you with your missing stuff. So I found some friendly people and bought their loyalty and hoped for the best. Despite trying to conserve electrons, my only battery began failing the moment of liftoff. I had to plan my shots extremely carefully, knowing that any shot could be my last. I went so far as to keep it in my pocket between shots, trying to keep it warm and get the maximum juice out of it. In the end, I got about 10 shots. This was the best of them. And my lost luggage, with batteries, caught up with me within an hour of touchdown. Lesson learned. (Price Schedule A)

Man Mo Temple #1

Man Mo Temple Hong Kong

Man Mo is a Daoist temple in the Soho district of Hong Kong that is both a working place of worship and a tourist stop. Locals write their prayers on red tags, purchase a spiral incense strip, hang it from the ceiling, and by the time incense has burned their wish has probably been resolved. It is a very small place, making it visual feast and, at the same time, a photographer’s nightmare. I stop in every time I am in Hong Kong, knowing it will look a bit different each day.

This shot required virtually an entire day for me to get right — first, to find the right time of day for intriguing light; second, to be very, very patient while people weaved around the small room, in and out of shots, incense burned, and smoke drifted. The style of photography I do – completely natural, in uncontrollable conditions — requires being in the right place at the right time. Sometimes that happens spontaneously, serendipitously. Most of the time, however, it requires planning and patience and I have to work very hard at it. (Price Schedule B)

Jaipur Temple Gate

Jaipur Temple Gate

I like to plan my photographs. Achieving the best color and light and composition is seldom a product of coincidence. And for the time spent, it is more likely I will come away with something useful than if I wander around hoping for the best.

However, the world is unpredictable and sometimes the best is what happens when you wander. So it was that I was walking down a chaotic street in Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, chanced a glance through a doorway and saw this scene – a group of women in multicolored saris framed by the doorway of a small temple. After two quick shots a man sat down on the steps and the scene was gone forever. Except in my camera. (Price Schedule D)

Clouds, Komodo Sea

Komodo Sea Clouds 1

Like most, I like the tropics. But you can have your blinding white beaches, breezy palms, iridescent coral reefs and smooth rum drinks. I’ll take the drama of the clouds over all of it.

The tropical wind, heat and humidity guarantee a cloud show every day. It starts innocently enough on the horizon, soaring but distant towers that remind you how big the world is and how vulnerable you are on your shallow sand spit or your puny boat. Then they come at you, their streaming white tops leading the way and their malevolent black bottoms churning the sea itself.

Tropical clouds are the ideal black and white photo subjects. This cloud family was one of several that captivated me while crossing the Komodo Sea near Labuan Bajo, Indonesia. I photographed them all afternoon, and spent days afterward teasing out every shade of gray. (Price Schedule C)

Fisherman, Zhujiajiao

Fisherman Zhujiajiao

Zhujiajiao is said to be the best “water town” in the Shanghai environs. The name means “Zhu family estate” and it is at least 1,000 years old. In the Yangtze River delta, canals are ubiquitous and every village is split by at least one, spanned by bridges and boats. Such old towns are now meccas for day trippers from the city, and are overrun with visitors and vendors. In Zhujiajiao, I wandered up the canal, getting away from town, and found a man on a skiff casting a wonderful fine mesh net on long poles, moving like some orchestra conductor stuck in adagio.

The grace of the image belies the difficulty of its capture. As he floated downstream, I had to follow on the opposite shore, climbing fences, jumping ditches and avoiding mayhem. At some point I may have stepped on a chicken. And of course I had to anticipate the right background. Eventually it all became perfect. (Price Schedule B)

Hong Kong Afternoon

I would call Hong Kong’s skyline one of the top five in the world for beauty and drama. I never get tired of its combination of hills, water, steel and optimism. Every year there is more to see, but it is more difficult to see because of increasing pollution. This trail on Victoria peak behind the Central district winds through dense forest, but provides an occasional view of this unique metropolis. But civilization has its downside in the brown haze that increasingly blocks the dramatic views. This evening I was lucky.

All is not well in Hong Kong, however. For both political and cultural reasons, Hong Kong residents are largely resisting assimilation into mainland China after its governance passed from Britain to China in 1997, leading to periods of civil disobedience and protest. For all its beauty and vitality, major changes for the small enclave of Hong Kong are inevitable. (Price Schedule F)

Blue Hour on the Bund, Shanghai

At Shanghai’s riverfront, the Bund, magnetic forces seem to compel all cameras to point east to the giant, gleaming towers of Pudong across the Huangpu River. Reversing the direction – shooting west from Pudong towards the Bund – never seems to work. The Bund falls flat, and Shanghai’s old colonial buildings are lost in the glass and glitter and the dark waters of the Huangpu.

One evening, in a lucky glance out a window from the Peace Hotel, I found this perspective. The warm tones of the old stones present a richness and sentiment the monumental glass towers will never have, while the gentle curve of the river brings the eyes back down to Earth. Shanghai locals really responded to this view — it seemed to capture the genuine spirit of the waterfront. Old Shanghai clearly has few things left to teach the New Shanghai. (Price Schedule D)

Sunset, Yakushima Island

Sunset Yakushima Island

There are reasons you have never heard of the Japanese island jewel, Yakushima. It is very unlike the stereotyped image of Japan, and it requires patience to get there. Yakushima is a steep granite monolith jutting out of the Pacific, covered with rain forest, not a volcano in sight, more like a small piece of Brazil. Its humble villages are a universe away from the Japanese metropolis.

Yakushima is directly in the path of several typhoons every year, and gets scoured again and again by wild winds and a turbulent ocean. Between these episodes of natural chaos, however, the water and the air is clear and inviting. On the west side of the island, sunsets are tinged red and gold with pollution from mainland China, 1000 km away. (Pricing Schedule F)

Huangshan West Sea, China

Huangshan West Sea, China

We all see them, the old Chinese scroll paintings depicting soaring, foggy, peaks with ancient pines, waterfalls dropping into mountain lakes, and we know it is the exaggerated fantasy allowed in art. But it’s not — it is real, and China’s Yellow Mountain, Huangshan, is the source of much of it. It is China’s most popular national park, and to visit is to know the country’s culture in a new way. For one thing, China’s engineers know how to build scary-but-safe trails on the faces of huge cliffs, and dare you to walk on them.

The overnight visitor learns that every pinnacle, crevice, cliff and promontory has its own weather. The wind and cloud that careens through the mountains interacts with every feature differently. Thus, when I went out early one morning into the storm covering the dramatic Huangshan gorge known as the West Sea, I knew not to give up. As I hiked along a narrow ledge, conditions got lighter but not better, and I began to think about turning back to a warm cup of tea. But Huangshan had other plans. I rounded a bend at a canyon overlook and the clouds swirled in the wind, allowing brief glimpses of one of China’s most fantastic landscapes. (Price Schedule B)

Morning in the Tea Fields

Morning in the Tea Fields

I spent a week in Sikkim and West Bengal, India, expecting and attempting to photograph natural wonders such as the Himalaya, the river gorges, and Mt. Katchenjunga. Unfortunately, I hit a week of intense air pollution and the vistas disappeared. But a new inspiration appeared — the velvet, verdant, atmospheric scenes on the tea fields. Something about Darjeeling tea favors the steepest slopes surrounded by dense forests, forcing the plantation staff and visitors alike to work hard at staying upright as they move around. Here, a lone tree in the middle of a plot on the Glenburn Tea Estate has mastered the task.

This composition reminds me of a rule among artists — a rule so pervasive that it has been highlighted by many books and teachers: The “Rule of Thirds,” which instructs to avoid symmetry in a composition by placing objects a third of the distance between borders, never halfway. In other words, never center a main subject. This composition, however, is nothing but symmetrical, flying in the face of this rule. I have shown many commentators various alternative arrangements of this photo, and all agree that it is an exception to the rule; it clearly works best when the tree is centered. (Price Schedule B)

Noble Truths, Myanmar

Noble Truths, Myanmar

What fascinated me about this scene from the moment I saw it was the connection between nature and humanity, made purely of light.  Outside and inside, in a common space but separated. On the blackboard are the remains of an old lesson in two languages and a giveaway calendar from a bank, which promises to take care of your money but says nothing about your humanity. Photographed, with permission, at Shwe Yan Pyay monastery, Inle, Myanmar. (Price Schedule D)

Paradise at Sunset

Where are we? Someplace small and lonely, certainly; You can see forever, to a far distant horizon with tropical clouds. Islands small and large dot the sea. Palm trees, small boats at anchor. On the beach, small shacks and houses, few lights. Two small ships, lighted, just arrived or just departing? From where? To where? A fishing boat has an strange, exotic profile. And that sunset, unearthly in its beauty, the day rapidly ending and the night bringing who knows what?

Where are we? What happens now? Perhaps it is better not to know. Perhaps it is enough just to know that Paradise exists, and that you can get there from where you are now, if you really want to. (Pricing Schedule C)

Clouds #2, Komodo Sea

Like most, I like the tropics. But you can have your blinding white beaches, breezy palms, iridescent coral reefs and smooth rum drinks. I’ll take the drama of the clouds over all of it.

The tropical wind, heat and humidity guarantee a cloud show every day. It starts innocently enough on the horizon, soaring but distant towers that remind you how big the world is and how vulnerable you are on your shallow sand spit or your puny boat. Then they come at you, their streaming white tops leading the way and their malevolent black bottoms churning the sea itself.

Tropical clouds are the ideal black and white photo subjects. This cloud family was one of several that captivated me while crossing the Komodo Sea near Labuan Bajo, Indonesia. I photographed them all afternoon, and spent days afterward teasing out every shade of gray. (Price Schedule C)

 

Tanah Lot at Sunset

Let me tell you about Indonesian sunsets. For one thing, they are insanely, surreally, colored. And not just the same color repeated, but unpredictable shades of scarlet, magenta, purple, red, indigo, orange, ochre, umber, cerise, colors you can only imagine. I have a hypothesis explaining it: Indonesia has more active volcanoes than any comparable area on earth, even Japan. They continually pump ash and dust into the sky, usually in small amounts but sometimes in large amounts. These extremely fine suspended particles are what colors the sunsets (and sunrises as well) so intensely. That’s my story.

Tanah Lot temple on Bali occupies a small headland just off the rocky coast. At low tide you can walk out to it, and many do because it is close to Bali’s overrun tourist centers. This particular evening, I had taken a long drive to get here and was resigned to disappointment as a big thunderstorm hit. But in the best Indonesian tradition, the clouds parted at the perfect moment and the whole world, waves included, became red. Or maybe it was cerise. (Pricing Schedule F)

At Last a Redeeming Use for the Shanghai Tourism Tunnel #9

Shanghai Tourism Tunnel 9

China possesses hundreds of man-made wonders that stagger the Western observer…and a few wonders that fall a bit short. The Shanghai Tourism Tunnel is one of the latter. Connecting two popular visitor sights in Shanghai — the Bund and the Pearl Tower — with a tunnel under the Huangpo River, the light show along the mini-railway is a little underwhelming…until you see it through long exposures in a camera, that is. There, the lights and lines assault you in a psychedelic riot. It takes some experimenting to get the technique just right, and at 50 RMB a trip you want to catch on quickly. I gave it my best shot, and the results remind me of tie-dyed fabric. (Price Schedule E)

Fishing Under the Bridge, Tunxi

Fishing Under the Bridge, Tunxi

Summer days are hot in Tunxi, Anhui Province, the gateway town to China’s Huangshan National Park. Under the bridge over the Xin’an River is not only a great place to tie up your boat, but to find some shade and fish a bit. Really, it’s too hot to do anything else. (Pricing Schedule D)

Dragon of Rinca

Dragon of Rinca

Komodo Dragons, the world’s largest monitor lizards, are princes of popular animal horror, perhaps a close third to sharks and poisonous snakes. With nasty teeth and a plodding, determined pursuit of their prey, they seem to be the closest thing we have to living dinosaurs. They are not venomous, contrary to popular myth, but their bite transmits large bacteria loads to their prey. They can bring down a large water buffalo with a bite, following it for a month until it drops from disease.

They range much further than their namesake Komodo Island, to many other Indonesian island include the large island of Flores. On my visit to Rinca Island, I hoped to catch a glimpse of the malevolent Komodo Dragon on the march, but wasn’t certain if I would even find one. Fortunately, with the help of a good guide with a big stick, I found all I could ask for. This big female with the constantly probing tongue seemed especially menacing. (Pricing Schedule G)

Ha Long Bay, Vietnam

Karst terrains are some of the most atmospheric and beautiful on Earth. The Ha Long area of northern Vietnam, where limestone towers and cliffs rise suddenly out of the sea, is one of the most remarkable of these. Dozens of major movies that needed the drama and mystery of these forest-encrusted towers have been filmed here.

Capturing Ha Long’s majesty in photographs depends a lot of the weather of the moment. This day, with a heavy haze obscuring detail, pointed the way to long telephoto shots and monotones, working with the ever-receding layers of ridges to distant horizons. (Price Schedule D)

 

Xidi Gate, Monochrome

One of China’s most rural provinces, Anhui, is an absolute treasury of old China culture and history. Huangshan National Park, Tunxi old town, Hongcun ancient village, and this priceless spot — Xidi ancient town — are worth many days spent in discovery on the Anhui back roads. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Xidi is my favorite old town in China, and a large part of that is wonder at this ancient town gate. There is nothing else like it from old China. Its official name is “Memorial Archway of the Governor,” and it dates from the Ming Dynasty, about 1300 years ago. Just steps away is a row of old habitations from the same date that have been converted to accommodations for travelers. Not hard to guess where I stayed in Xidi. (Price Schedule G)