The Temple of a Million Years
Traveling the world, It's hard not to reflect on your own life as you pass through others'. As a young archaeologist in the nineties I once sat studying Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs in the dusty basement of the British Institute for Archaeology in Amman, Jordan. Surrounded by newly unearthed pottery sherds, stone tools, bronze and flint from Jordan's ancient history, it was hard to fit in my passion of Egypt before one of the directors shooed me off to catalog medieval pottery instead. Eighteen years old and I could already decipher a fair number of glyphs using eighteenth century text books from a small library time seemed to have forgotten. One evening I found myself gazing at the inscription of a stele dedicated to Ramses the Second, a decree regarding the state of his memorial temple, his 'House of millions of years'. As fate would have it, Christian Jacq, French author and Egyptologist, had just that year stoked my imagination with his latest novel Ramses and the Temple of Eternity, a gloriously descriptive account of this exact temple, built for Ramses during the New Kingdom era. The novel and stele would stay with me until one afternoon in Asia, some fifteen years later.
Deep in southern China, standing somewhere off the tourist route just outside Dali, I think of Ramses and his magnificent memorial temple as I point a lens at southern China's dynastic architecture. The grandeur of these buildings alone is breathtaking in itself, but it's the concept of constructing a temple to last for eternity that rings in my ears, and southern China does not disappoint. A momentary memory unearths from a university seminar, that the world is full of similarities, from Egypt to Mexico to China to India to Easter Island, our ancestors strove to be remembered until the end of time, it was their purpose in life, their gateway to the heavens. Fifteen years of thought, a university degree, field work and friendships came together to form this image, and that's the first thing I teach my students, that art rarely happens when you expect it.
This particular temple sits towards the back of the Three Pillars complex just outside Dali in China's Yunnan province. One would be forgiven if they missed it whilst visiting, the main thoroughfare takes you past the core attraction, Three large pillars, and then on to a larger temple to light some incense and buy the obligatory wrist bangle. Venture off the beaten track however and you're rewarded with this majestic scene, and not a soul in sight. Okay, maybe one.
Nikon D4 / Nikkor 14-24 f2.8