Photographer focuses on Great Wall passion
Untrained villager went from snapping tourists to winning national prizes in just a few years
Few people are as familiar with the Jinshanling section of the Great Wall as Zhou Wanping.
For 33 years, not only has he manned a stall there selling snacks and souvenirs but he has also taken countless photographs of the scenic spot, some of which have earned him national acclaim.
Zhou’s village home in Chengde, Hebei province, is about 30 minutes’ walk from the world-famous Jinshanling section, which dates back to the Ming Dynasty (13681644).
The 53-year-old started his stall in 1985 and began snapping pictures as a way of making extra money.
“Tourists were always asking me to take photos of them after they’d shopped at my stall,” he said, adding that he decided to save his money to buy a secondhand camera.
“I’d take a picture of tourists with the Great Wall and mail it to them once it’d been developed. I charged less than 1 yuan (14 cents) a picture.”
Yet instead of filling his pockets, the activity stoked his interest in photography. Soon, he was taking pictures of the ancient wall every day, from different spots and at different angles.
“My family and neighbors said I was just playing around to escape from work, that it wasn’t proper for a grown-up,” Zhou recalled.
But he did not give up, and sometimes he would camp out beside the wall for days just to capture the scenery in the right lighting and get that “perfect shot”.
“I had no technical knowledge about photography at the time. I just pressed the shutter release when I thought it was the right moment,” said Zhou,
SPIRIT OF ACTION
who has only a middle school education.
Most of his pictures were ordinary, he said, but whenever he found one that stood out, he would write down the settings he had used, such as the shutter speed. Using this technique, he honed his own style.
In 1988, one of his Great Wall pictures won first prize at the 17th National Photography Art Exhibition.
The honor won Zhou the support he needed from his family to follow his passion. Using the prize money, he bought brand-new photography equipment and focused his lens on his favorite subject — Jinshanling.
“Nature gives the Great Wall different scenery every day, and you never know what breathtaking and beautiful moment you will capture,” he said.
Zhou’s pictures continued to win prizes, including the China Photography Award, the highest honor among the country’s photography circle. Professional photographers now visit his home to ask for tips on shooting the Great Wall.
While summer is the peak season for tourists, fall is when most photographers head to Jinshanling section, he said.
“I’m proud more photographers are coming and getting to know the beauty of the Jinshanling Great Wall,” he added. “As a villager, I’m keen to give them some ideas from the local perspective.”
The Jinshanling section of the Great Wall in Chengde, Hebei province, is scarfed by morning fog after rain.