Monthly Archives: March 2012

Thinking Inside the Box: The Taj Mahal

Thinking Inside the Box is an occasional series in which I talk about the making of my images.


When you’re photographing what’s widely considered to be the world’s most beautiful structure, it’s not too difficult to make a nice image. Or even a very nice image. A wide angle lens, a spot in front of the reflecting pool, hopefully in the early morning before the crowds arrive, and you’ve got it. Or perhaps a view framed by a nearby archway, again hopefully before the crowds arrive, and voilà!

But how do you move past that cliché postcard view and tell a different story?

In all the pictures I’ve ever seen of the Taj, I never really knew what it looked like. The marble, the details, the beautiful inlays – I was quite surprised actually. That was the Taj I wanted to share. So I swapped the wide angle for a telephoto.

And then there were the long lines of crowds. Undeniably part of the experience of visiting the Taj Mahal. But instead of cursing the pesky tourists and patiently standing in one spot hoping they moved past my frame, or angling the camera upward as to easily avoid them, I chose to embrace them.

And how could I not! The single file of tourists, in their bright Indian dress, turned the crowd into a colorful architectural element.

The Indian people as part of the structure. In abstraction, melding into their proudest cultural icon.

An intimate, more telling view, I hope, of what is usually only admired from afar.


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Thinking Inside the Box: Lijiang China

Thinking Inside the Box is an occasional series in which I talk about the making of my images.


In researching my tentative route around China, I consulted my trusted travel advisor, Mr. Google, with the inquiry, “the Tuscany of China.” It wasn’t that I expected, or even wanted, Italy to be literally replicated in China. But my only familiarity with the country involved the metropoli of Beijing and Shanghai. And I wondered if I might find a kinder, gentler place somewhere that embodied what I loved about the hill towns of Italy.

Mr. G. suggested that I might enjoy Chengdu. But it turned out that I wasn’t able to fit Sichuan Province into this trip.

I did instead find myself in Lijiang in Yunnan Province, an incredibly picturesque cobblestoned town with narrow winding lanes. And public squares where, if you looked past the hordes of tour groups, one could find the locals going about their business, playing cards, socializing.

In Sifang Square I spotted a group of gentlemen sitting closely together and passing the time engaged in lively conversation. It was the same exact scene that is a staple in the Italian piazza. And one that I find, for the most part, missing back in the US in our rushed existence. Dolce far niente, the sweet art of doing nothing. And these men had that sweet art down to a science.

I was particularly attracted to their expressive faces and animated interaction, and the sense that they were truly enjoying each other’s company.  I pressed the shutter button at the moment I detected an interesting variety in the directions they were facing. I chose a tight frame because what was important to me was that universal human interaction, without the distraction of the background setting.

I believe I had found la dolce vita in China after all.



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