Take a peek at the photograph below and try to guess where in the world it was taken. Drop your answer in the comment box and check back tomorrow to see if you are right.
Behind the Scenes: The year is 1995 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for The New York Times Travel Section in Beijing, China. He’s there to do a story about Ritan (Temple of the Sun) Park.
This expansive park is one of the oldest sites in Beijing and is like an oasis in the midst of a teeming metropolis. Commissioned by Ming Dynasty emperor JiaJing in 1530, it is filled not only with massive trees, gardens, pavilions, and small lakes, but many places for people to gather and recreate. Tai chi and ballroom dancing are common forms of exercise found here.
When Jeffrey comes upon this elderly gentleman wearing a traditional Mao jacket, fully immersed in the solitude of his early morning ritual, he knows he has captured the essence of Ritan Park and also created a wonderful symbol of ancient China–still alive and well in modern day Beijing.
At its core, tai chi is a martial art (also referred to as shadow boxing), but it is now commonly practiced to strengthen and promote mind/body health. Jeffrey loved how the man was entranced in the shadow of his own dance, and how the traditional Chinese red wall and green tiles melded with the shadow and gesture, creating pure harmony.
This image was created with a Nikon F4, a Nikkor 85mm lens and Fuji Velvia film.
Postscript: A week after it was published as the cover of The New York Times Travel Section, Broadway’s legendary song and dance man, Tommy Tune, wrote a letter to the editor extolling the artistic merits of Jeffrey’s photograph and how he captured the magic of the moment.
“It was quite an honor coming from Tommy Tune, whom I admire for his artistry and accomplishments in the field of dance,” said Jeffrey. “The fact that he would take the time to write a letter to the editor…there really is no higher compliment.”
Behind the Scenes: It’s 1989 and the Khmer Rouge are still fighting in Cambodia. Pol Pot’s official reign of genocidal terror has ended, but the aftermath of the “Killing Fields,” as it was coined in the grizzly 1984 film, still lingers.
Jeffrey is in Cambodia with Harry Rolnick, a foreign correspondent for the Bangkok Post. They are there to tell the story of the restoration quietly taking place at Angkor Wat Temple Complex. A handful of scientists from the Archaeological Survey of India have begun work on Cambodia’s most important archaeological site.
Angkor Wat, an ancient city built by King Survyavarman II in the 12th century, has taken a beating from years of neglect and non-stop fighting. Khmer Rouge guerrillas have looted temples, decapitated sculptures, and sold the spoils on the black market to raise cash for the war. The site’s exquisite Khmer architecture, which is often compared to that of ancient Greece and Rome in importance, has also been strangled by the encroaching jungle. Vines and roots have damaged structures, causing many of its sandstone temples, reliefs, and statues to crumble.
The restoration of Cambodia’s most important site (and symbol) is a tiny glimmer of hope for a country that has not dared to hope since the Khmer Rouge murdered approximately two million of its people (one quarter of the population).
Because the U.S. still has not established diplomatic relations with Cambodia after Pol Pot’s reign of terror, Jeffrey and Harry must first fly from Bankgok, Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to obtain a visa to enter the country. A few days later they will backtrack to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, then they will catch a puddle-jumper plane to Siem Reap, the province in which Angkor Wat is located.
After a hard and fast landing (to avoid gunfire, they are told), they head to the Grand Hotel, the only hotel operating in the area at the time. Tourism has been at a standstill for more than a decade. When the bellman of this dilapidated establishment leads Jeffrey and Harry to their rooms, Jeffrey notices that his bed is pushed awkwardly into a far corner. When he asks about it, the bellman explains, “That is for your safety—in case there is gunfire. Bullets will not be able to hit you over here if they come through your window.”
The next day an interpreter and several Cambodian soldiers meet Harry and Jeffrey on the outskirts of Angkor Wat. The complex is over five hundred acres, and they must walk through the jungle to the temples where the archaeologists are working. The men are told under no uncertain terms may they leave the single narrow path they plying. Live mines litter the landscape everywhere else. Nearby gunfire reminds them that this is no idle warning.
Jeffrey and Harry walk cautiously and stick closely to the Cambodian soldiers who know every inch of the area. The emptiness of Angkor Wat and the heavy air blanketing the jungle creates an eeriness that makes the back of Jeffrey’s neck prickle. Harry continually looks over his shoulder. Even the slightest snap of a twig from a jungle creature or birds taking flight makes them pause. Jeffrey can’t help wonder, How do we know the Khmer Rouge haven’t laid another mine on the path last night and how do we know we won’t be ambushed now?
Eventually they arrive where the archaeologists are working. The interpreter introduces the men and points out many of the sites wonders, including giant Hindu sandstone faces, exquisite bas-reliefs, and temples covered in roots more massive than each of them. It doesn’t take long before Jeffrey is able to create a powerful visual story about what is taking place here.
After spending the entire day at Angkor Wat, they make their way back out to the other side where a car is expected to be waiting for them. As they reach the outskirts of the site and walk along a road near a small village, they come upon a young boy carrying an AK-47 rifle. This barefoot youngster, who is wearing nothing more than threadbare shorts, is protecting his village against the Khmer Rouge. As he walks under the weight of his gun, his onyx eyes reveal a life that has already witnessed far too much.
Jeffrey can’t help but think back to his own carefree childhood, and tries to swallow the sadness rising in his throat as he gets down on his knees to create this boy’s portrait. He can only hope that peace will come soon to Cambodia, and with it, a return to childhood for this young “man.”
This photograph was created with a Nikon F4, a Nikor 24mm lens and Fuji Velvia film.
Postscript: Jeffrey has returned to Angkor Wat on assignment two more times since his first trip in 1989, and each time he has witnessed it coming back to life more and more. Restoration is now nearly complete and Angkor Wat has been listed as a World Heritage Site, along with Cambodia’s largest tourist attraction. The best part is that Jeffrey has never come across another child carrying an AK-47 rifle in Cambodia.
If you want to learn more about Angkor Wat, click HERE.
Put on your thinking caps, photography fans! I’m starting a fun new quiz. See if you can NAME THAT PHOTOGRAPHER by reading the following five clues:
1) He was a Jewish German-American photographer born in 1898.
2) In 1936 he became one of the four original photographers at LIFE magazine, where he produced 2,500 assignments and 92 covers.
4) He once famously said, “It’s more important to click with people than to click the shutter.”
5) He lived to the age of 96 and photographed President Clinton and his family on Martha’s Vineyard when he was 94 (the last photos of his life).
Bonus clue: He created one of my all-time favorite images ever in Paris called, “Children at Puppet Theatre.” It sits right next to my desk and makes me smile every day.
Write your guess in the comment box, then check back tomorrow morning (March 20th) for the answer.
AND NO CHEATING!
Behind the scenes: It’s 1994 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for Travel Holiday in the Champagne Region of France. His job is to capture the essence of this region with its renowned vineyards and charming, old world towns.
Jeffrey speaks only a little French, but after landing in Paris he loads up a rental car, negotiates his way through the city’s chaotic roundabouts, then finally hits the open road heading toward Epernay, about eighty miles away. His nerves take a beating during the drive, especially without any English signage to guide him, but the beauty of the region creates a soothing natural salve.
The following day several men from the Champagne Chamber of Commerce warmly welcome him with a lavish, three-hour lunch, complete with six different types of champagne.
Jeffrey, who likes to hit the ground running, tries to quell the impatient feeling needling him while the men laugh and linger, making sure the champagne keeps pace with their stories. Eventually the bubbles begin to travel to Jeffrey’s head, forcing him to lose his natural, high-energy need-for-speed, and relax and fully appreciate the lifestyle of this region.
He can already tell that it’s going to be one the cushiest stories he’s photographed in a long time, even if he will have to work hard to photograph everything on his long shoot list.
During the next week he plows through more than 70 rolls of film in the visually rich towns of Reims, Damery, Troyes, Epernay and Haut Viller. He photographs everything from vineyards and chalk cellars to wine bars, restaurants, and galleries to people, architecture, and landscapes. He also shoots details like the street sign honoring Dom Perignon, the monk who discovered bubbly.
After spending a morning photographing the interior of Castellene du Champagne winery in Epernay, Jeffrey heads to his car. Just as he’s about to load up his equipment and move on to the next location on his list, he sees two workers carrying a giant champagne bottle along the road in front of the winery.
Jeffrey knows what he sees before him must be included in the story so he quickly takes out his camera again and begins photographing. He works hard to get the angle which will include both the Avenue du Champagne sign and the shadow. After capturing this quirky moment, curiosity inspires him to find out what they’re doing with the giant bottle.
“Once a week we have tastings in the garden and we bring these large bottles out for ambiance. People enjoy sipping champagne beneath these big bottles,” a worker laughs as he explains in his thick French accent.
Though dozens of photographs from this shoot have been published around the world, this giant champagne bottle has captured peoples’ imaginations the most. It has been published in magazines, on cards, and inside Communication Arts where Jeffrey received an award for it.
This image was created with a Nikon F4 camera, a Nikor 85mm lens and Fuji Velvia Film.
Would you agree that this picture begs for a creative caption? I’d love to hear your ideas. Send me your best!
Take part in our first ever Improbable Caption Contest and win a $20 Amazon gift card.
First of all, please be assured there are no strings attached whatsoever. This is just my way of having fun and celebrating creativity.
Now, take a close look at who these viewers are watching on TV, and submit your best caption by simply drop it into the comment box.
Next Thursday, October 13th, I will select the winning caption and announce it here on the blog. The person with the most creative caption will be emailed a $20 gift card from Amazon.
Good luck! I can’t wait to hear your creative ideas!
Oh, and also, of course, I’ll be sharing the story behind this much-published photograph.