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.