We awoke early one misty morning to climb the last stages of stairs to the higher viewpoints in time for the rising sun, which never really broke out of the clouds except for one feeble and fleeting moment. We shared the wait with dozens of Chinese photographers, and to pass the time, we took note of their gear and methods. The majority of the men—and true to their gender if one is allowed that generalization—still used their Canons and large zooms, mounted on tripods like scopes or weapons pointed at targets. Only one woman employed her Nikon's new-tech features, composing with the LCD, leveling with the digital horizon and triggering the shutter with an electronic release. She drew our attention, not only as a new adopter, but as an independent woman traveler in a new China.
As a commercial crop, the rice grown at Longsheng can no longer be sold at competitive prices because of the inefficiencies of farming such terrain. However, hosting and feeding tourists, artists and photographers have become a more lucrative source of income.
The Dong are a particular curiosity with their extraordinarily long hair, bolstered by extra extensions of their own growth. Today, they benefit greatly from the influx of tourist dollars and seldom pose without a price, or at least a sale of their trinkets and crafts.
Blending his father's methodology with Rowell's equipment, China is now especially fortunate. Working with a Nikon D800E and its 36-megapixel image files, he's able to maintain the ease and portability of small cameras while creating big, bold images that easily outperform 35mm film. He's venturing into what he calls "the realm of 4x5 quality."
A Room With A View
Proof of Longsheng's photographic importance is the Li-An Lodge or guesthouse built and operated by professional photographer Keren Su. The accommodations and enviable location prompt the question, "Where can I sign up for this gig?" He discovered this enchanted location during a photography trip in 1997, after which it took eight years to design and finish this traditional guesthouse just below the preferred photo vantage points. Access is only by a one-hour climb up winding stairs through Ping'an, with a stop for lunch including sticky rice cooked in bamboo over a fire.