I was a child when I first saw a Chinese landscape painting. I was stirred by utterly strange, craggy, primordial forms receding seem-ingly to infinity. Mist-enshrouded and sparsely festooned with austere pagodas they were populated by solitary figures serenely contemplating the same mystical landscape as I. I loved their world. I would have understood the statement of Kuo Hsi, a painter of the Sung Dynasty, that in the best landscape paintings one can wander and live.
It may come as a surprise to some that such paintings were not fantasies but were inspired by actual scenery which has been a place of pilgrimage for Chinese artists for centuries.
Photographing this landscape, I felt a distant kinship with the crea-tors of the paintings I had admired. The comparison of the two media is not as far-fetched as it may seem. Classic texts and the paintings themselves demonstrate that Chinese landscape painters possessed a sensibility much like that of many photographers. They observed the minutest alterations of appearances wrought by changes in season, time of day, light, weather, and point of view. They also believed that almost anything could be rendered artistically, provided only that it be repre-sented in such a way as to reveal its essence. As for the photo-grapher, acceptance of the intractable world before the lens is not a grudging recognition of limits but an affirmation of possibilities - the successful photograph is an interface of inner and outer realities.
The desire to photograph in this place was acute. Not the making of a momento but of an image that is a significant transformation of what is witnessed. Whence this desire? Does the image surpass the already bountiful reality? Or is it simply the fleeting experience of the reality rendered more permanent? The ancient Chinese painters believed that a successful painting, in its production and appre-hension, is both the result and revelation of an underlying reality pervading sublimely indifferent Nature. of which humankind is only a part. It is, they believed, a basic human urge to image this reality. Huangshan has been a perennial occasion for such images in which we are free to wander and to live.
© David Bartlett/Silver and Ink