Vertical landscapes

Still contemplating the merits of drinking a few cups of finest old Pu’er tea for around £220, I went to the Shanghai Museum near the corner of People’s Square, close to where I’m staying. Another great show after last month’s 320-metre continuous horizontal scroll painting by Hsu Wen-jung – a collection of more conventional scroll paintings. Prominent were Shan-shui (Mountain-Water) brush paintings…

Although there are horizontal and squarish versions of this Chinese form, the vertical; scrolls are the most common, executed in brush strokes and composed according to principles worked out over centuries. Daoist and Confucian thought plays an important rôle: in particular that man is small, and nature is harmonious.

For a photographer, vertical landscapes are a challenge, especially as extreme as this aspect ratio. With that in mind, these paintings teach a lot. The subject matter of course is full of verticals: steep-sloped mountains and rocks, peaks, waterfalls, river and/or path winding down to the foot of the scene. Figures and houses are tiny. But one of the keys is compressed perspective. Very compressed, with layers stacked and rising. Layers of cloud often separate…

For a photograph, think very long telephoto, from an elevation. But these are not scenes from life, rather the painter’s thought about landscape. So, in this spirit, I took several images shot last year within a few miles of each other in the exceptional Nujiang valley…

These days I don’t fool about much with pictures, but in this case maybe. It’s just a sketch, anyway.