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  Field Notes From
The Great Wall



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On Assignment
View Field Notes
From Author
Peter Hessler



On Assignment

View Field Notes
From Photographer

Michael Yamashita



In most cases these accounts are edited versions of a spoken interview. They have not been researched and may differ from the printed article.

Photographs by Michael Yamashita


 

On Assignment On Assignment On Assignment
The Great Wall

Field Notes From Photographer
Michael Yamashita
Best Worst Quirkiest

I went to Badaling Safari Park because I thought it would be fun to photograph African animals with the Great Wall as a backdrop, and, sure enough, I wasn't disappointed.
We drove into the lions' den just as zoo employees were feeding them live chickens and sheep. I started shooting from the car's rear seat with the windows down, moving from side to side to position the lions in front of the wall. Then one of them attacked our car. My driver shifted the car back and forth to shake the lion off. I kept snapping pictures and yelling at the driver to hold the car still. The lion eventually latched onto one of our tires, bit into it, and gave us a flat. We finally got out of there, and even though it was a little nerve-racking, I knew I got a great picture and a great story out of it  (See pages 28-9 in the January NGM).



I found out about a stunt man who planned to jump over the Great Wall on his motorcycle Evil Knievel style, only backwards. So the day of the event, I scouted out the site early and found a spot where I could snap a panoramic of him in the air with the crowd and the wall in the background.
At 10 a.m., four hours after I had arrived, a police officer told me I had to move and marched me down this very steep section of the wall. But I went over to the organizers, and they assured me I had permission to stand wherever I wanted. So I went back, and less than an hour later another cop escorted me down. Again I went up, this time with an army guy. Everything was cool until another officer approached us about 15 minutes before the jump and told us we definitely had to move because we were standing where all the top police brass wanted to sit with their wives. We screamed and yelled, but in the end I had to stand some hundred yards (90 meters) away. I never got what would have been an amazing shot.



I was traveling along the Great Wall on a crumbled section that runs along the North Korean border when I saw two young soldiers wander out of the woods on the other side. Carrying what looked like World War I vintage rifles and wearing raggedy clothes, they approached director of photography Kent Kobersteen, who was visiting China, and my translator to trade cigarettes and firewood. It was strange to have this up-close-and-personal experience with soldiers from such an isolated country.





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