Faculty Favorites

A selection of Joseph Allen's favorite images

Vendor and Daughter in Uighur Bazaar, Turpan, China <br />

1.  Vendor and Daughter in Uighur Bazaar, Turpan, China, 1983

The Uighur people form a large Islamic community living primarily in the oasis towns of the Taklimakan Desert in far western China; they are Turkish in ethnicity and language. When this photograph was taken (1983), the Uighurs were largely invisible in the political landscape of China—they would later become a force of resistance against the Chinese state.  It is as midday and the bazaar is in full swing when I come upon this father and daughter preparing a strained fruit drink with a rather rudimentary machine. The gleam of its top gear wheel is mirrored by the gleam of the father’s new digital watch, a machine of much more recent origins. The girl attends, with the posture of a Degas dancer but with downcast eyes. (JRA)

Young Pioneers, Shanghai Children’s Palace

2.  Young Pioneers, Shanghai Children’s Palace, December 1981

In 1981, China was just emerging from the Mao years, which were full of both promise and plague.  The red kerchiefs that the two girls wear, which mark them as model students, are a lingering sign of those years. In just a few years these kerchiefs will be replaced by knock-off Gucci scarves and emblazoned jackets, especially in Shanghai. The two girls are playing in the courtyard of a Children’s Palace, a recreation and education center; one is in shadows, the other in sunlight. The former looks into the camera with both curiosity and casualness, while her companion, holding tight, looks away. In those gestures they are performing what the whole nation was wondering: whether to look away back toward the interior, or to look directly at the new presence. (JRA)

Kazakh Mother and Children, Tianshan Mountains

3.  Kazakh Mother and Children, Tianshan Mountains, June 1983

The Kazakhs, also known as Cossacks, are pastoral herders who tend sheep and horses in the Tianshan mountains on the northern rim of the old silk route in western China.  In the spring (this is June, 1983) they move to their summer camps up in the alpine meadows.  While the men are off with their herds, the women and children tend camp. Here the mother is sewing quilts for the cold evenings, using a portable, hand cranked sewing machine; it is perfect luxury for this nomadic life. Both mother and children are still bundled against the chill and present a colorful splash against the billowing quilts and the deep green of the pasture. The little one watches her mother’s work with seeming wonder, as the older boy hides behind her peeking out. (JRA)

Burning Incense at Temple in Chengdu, China

4.  Incense Burner, Chengdu, China, February 1986

The 1980s brought the opening of China to international world, which flooded the country with items and ideas that were new and often shocking—soft drinks, sensual clothing, and noisy tourists. Yet those years also brought back to life old practices that had been dormant (one might have thought dead) during the austere years of early communist rule. One of the earliest and most vibrant practice to regain that life was worship at the local temple. Once shuddered, if not destroyed, these institutions flung open their doors and were also flooded, but with local populations. The local Chinese temple operates spiritually on an “entrepreneurial” level. The worshipers go to the temple on their own schedules with their own needs—there a no “community services” per se, but the community is served, nonetheless. In this photo (1986), a local woman approaches the central incense burner to present her requests or prayers. She is lighting her incense sticks off of ones already burning, and we see her through a haze of flame and smoke, which is an index of that community of believers. Her gaze is distracted however: is she contemplating what she is there to find out, or just the strange intruder? (JRA)

Dark Ages of Traffic, Taipei, Taiwan

5.  Dark Ages of Traffic, Taipei, Taiwan, 1990s

In the 1980s and 1990s, Taiwan, especially Taipei City, was overwhelmed with automobiles.  Once a city of only taxi cabs and scooters (and earlier bicycles), personal wealth had brought with it the private automobile. While the city was building their new subway (now the gem of its transportation system), parts of the city went into nearly permanent gridlock.  We were in the so-called “dark ages of traffic” (jiaotong heiqi).This photograph is of a downtown, intramural street whose design and size dates from the end of the 19th century. It was intended for pedestrians and rickshaws. The telephoto lens has heightened the density of the imagery, both signage and traffic, but that heightened density replaces the accompanying cacophony that is here silenced by the medium. The out of focus yellow cab careening towards us contributes to the disorienting confusion of the street. (JRA)

Great Wall, Eastern Section

6.  Great Wall, Eastern Section, 2002

How many times have we seen pictures of the Great Wall, and how many times is it the “same photograph”?  On posters, menus, study abroad brochures, and advertisements for anything vaguely associated with China. It is always the serpentine sections of Badaling north of Beijing, with crenelated brick walls and guard stations climbing the hills into the distance, and usually with hundreds of people in progress along that dragon’s back. This photo is not that Great Wall. This is in the section far east of Beijing, at Taiping Mountain, near where the wall begins. Instead of that twisting brick wall we see here the unrestored stone surfaces against an open sky. The young woman sits on its edge, just off the rough path way, framed by boulders and greenery.  She seems to be more contemplating than conquering the wall. Her white running shoes providing a counterpoint that says something about the time (2002) and perhaps her identity.  Is she just another tourist, or does she belong there? (JRA)

Central Mountains, Taiwan

7.  Central Mountains, Taiwan, 1989

Taiwan is part of the “chain of fire” islands pushed out of the sea by the collision of tectonic plates in the eastern and southern pacific. This has given the island a striking profile.  Only eighty miles wide, it has peaks that reach nearly 10,000 feet, the highest in East Asia. The tallest have alpine meadows and tropical snow. The ones in this photograph (at approximately 5000 feet) represent those with heavy forests clinging to precipitous slopes.  Here we see the landscape in dramatic layers: stone, dark pines, and then cliffs rising into the clouds. This was taken from a gravel road in the late morning of a nine-hour bicycle climb up to Li Mountain (from the Yilan side) in spring of 1989. The Nikon camera was the heaviest piece of equipment on the ride, a burdensome luxury. (JRA)

Dry Goods Market and Mushrooms

8.  Dry Goods Market, Xi’an, China, 1996

Go to Xi’an and see the terracotta warriors.  Or rather maybe the dry-goods grocer.  Her display is as ordered as the soldiers and much more colorful—of course the terracotta soldiers were also originally painted gaudy colors. She sits enveloped in a cornucopia of foods and medicinal herbs: grains, mushrooms, beans, and noodles—labels on bags call out “pine nuts,” “cloves,”” black pepper,” “elevated gastrodia tubers” (of the orchid family),” zhuxun fungus” (from Sichuan province), “nostoc commune” (a favorite New Year’s food) and something called  Baji, which must be short for Bajitian, morinda root. The grocer sits wrapped in white, almost as another commodity.  The gold earring seen below her cap suggests that she is a Hui Muslim, of which a substantial population reside in Xi’an, with their own Great Mosque. Unlike the Islamic people of far western China, the Hui are ethnically Chinese, having turn to the religion in medieval times, when religious tolerance was the norm. (JRA)

Tracking

9.  Tracking, 1990s

Although industrialization, automation, and the digital world have come to large swaths of China, particular the coastal cities, some forms of labor remain unchanged.  That includes “tracking” of boats up river: teams of men pulling them from the shoreline with long lengths of rope.  The tradition is best known in the dramatic landscape of Three Gorges where tracking paths are cut out of the cliffs high above the river. But the work is also important for many smaller rivers in China. In this photograph, a young man works with a team of trackers in a small tributary to the great Yangtze River (Changjiang). Clawing against the river bottom, barefoot in the freezing water, he is soaked, cold, and barely clothed on this rainy day.  The red shorts are the only thing new here. He yells something, or is it a worksong?  I cannot remember. I am on another boat that is being hauled up these stony rapids; I am warm and dry. (JRA)

Sichuan Province

10.  Sichuan Province, 1993

Her name is Caroline.  She is sitting on a ledge above the lush rice paddies of Sichuan province, one of the greatest agricultural gifts to the continent. You certainly know the food. The photograph catches that fleeting moment in between two stasis, as she turns to see who’s there. We had been visiting the great Dazu Buddhist grotto sculptures (plenty pictures of those too), when we stopped on the road for a short break. Of the many clients I escorted through China in the 1980s and 1990s, Caroline and her friend, Perri, were unusual. They were young; young by any standard, but especially by the standards of expensive China tours.  They had just graduated from college and Perri’s grandmother had bought them the trip.  These days such students travel all over China on their own, sometimes with no language ability (not easy), sometimes with near-native skills. I calculate Caroline and Perri are now about 45 years old, no doubt with children of their own. I am willing to bet at least one of those children speaks Chinese. (JRA)