Arrival in Xiang Sha Wan….Let The Photo Show Begin

Well, we made it to Xiang Sha Wan, a bit of an oasis in a very cold desert. This is an amazing place, but it was a trek getting here.

With layovers, Vera and I traveled for 30 hours… We barely got out of Philly, with the snow storm and subsequent delays, but we did get out on our scheduled 6:00 am flight to San Francisco.  After a two hour layover, on to Beijing, a 12 hour flight. Then, a 5 hour layover followed by an hour flight to Baotuo on China Air. We were then picked up at the airport along with two other photographers, and driven to Xiang Sha Wan, about an hour’s drive. Finally got to our hotel at around midnight…exhausted and cold.

The flight to Beijing was pretty amazing, with the sun following us the whole way, it never got dark. We flew over Alaska, across the Bering Straights, and over the south part of Siberia, then into China.

We had our first meal in Beijing at the airport. We found a noodle house, and out of about 200 diners, we were the only non-Chinese patrons. Neither one of us speaks Mandarin, but we managed quite well…

Arriving at the hotel in -8 degrees Fahrenheit, we were looking forward to walking into a warm environment…well, the lobby was unheated! Turns out that the room wasn’t much better, at 12 degrees C!  Vera and I both slept in our down jackets…

On to the exhibition, and this amazing place…

The exhibition hall is a HUGE round dome well, uh, construction…100 meters across, just about large enough to hold a football field. Its in the middle of a desert, and to get there, we rode in the back (again.. unheated) of an army truck / jeep-like thing, over sand dunes. Not roads, mind you, but sand dunes. I’m convinced that our driver was having fun by getting very close to the dune edges, in many cases with a 50-60 ft.drop, then cranking the wheel to go in to a bit of a slide. Yee-ha!

Walking into the hall was an astounding experience. This show is very large, with 10 American photographers and 20 or so Chinese photographers, along with at least one Japanese photographer, Hiroji Kubota, of Magnum.

The hall is… you guessed… unheated. The floor is sand. Each photographer has hanging space created by 2-3″ wooden poles driven into the sand, with the same poles as cross beams. On top of the poles are “rain boards”, although I think they are there for aesthetic reasons, as the dome is waterproof (I think).

Inside was a large group of Chinese men, many of whom looked to be in the military, working on framing and installation, and wow, what great outfits. Long green coats with gold star buttons, bomber hats and red sand bags (shoe protectors) over their feet. Oh yeah, and each had a pair of brand new white gloves, ostensibly to protect the prints which were about to be inserted into frames which have been sitting in the sand, and which will be put back onto the sand after framing.

I just kept telling myself: “Harold, lighten up. This is not time to worry about that tiny little speck in the frame that will only show under a 1000 watt light” Instead, I am living with the fact that there is almost certainly sand in each of my frames. And this coming from a guy who doesn’t even like sand at the beach.

These guys were great, and aside from the language barrier, we managed to get 14 pieces framed in about 5 hours. The mats were custom cut ahead of time, and the frames were all the same size, so once we got a workflow down, things went fairly smoothly.

On our way back from lunch, while in the truck / jeep thing, we saw some of the local camels and their drivers coming at us at a high rate of speed, something I didn’t realize camels could do. These guys were dressed in the same military looking garb and seemed to enjoy riding their camels in sub-zero weather. The camels, on the other hand, didn’t look too delighted. Tourists come here from all over China to visit this beautiful desert and ride camels (in the summer, of course).

The internet is a little sketchy here and I will post images of my trip soon, so please stay tuned……OK, I’m exhausted and yes, cold. Going to bed…

More to come!

~ by Harold Ross on December 31, 2010.

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