Well, of course I knew that, but I’ve recently gotten a little better using the dodge/burn tool, and I like to share with you when I learn something. Look at the difference between the two. (I might even want to back off a bit in the image on the right to give a better sense of proportion and depth…making the interior a little “softer.” I think that something between these two images would be better.)
“Do you have a photo which invites the viewer to look beyond? Are there hidden depths in the background? Is the focal point just a framing for the rest of the picture? If it’s not clear why we should look beyond, tell us! “
Last summer, I traveled from Shanghai to Beijing by myself and spent five days visiting the ancient sites. My favorite tour was in the Hutong area, the ancient neighborhoods of narrow streets and courtyard residences. Stop for a moment with me and look beyond the worn threshold.
My favorite tour in Beijing was by cycle rickshaw through a section of the Hutong area, where I ate lunch in a private residence.
The earliest hutong was built during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368); most of the remaining buildings are from the Ming (1368-1628) and Qing (1644-1908) Dynasties. Surrounding the Forbidden City, (home to emperors, their eunuchs, and concubines), they initially housed government officials and civil servants, with the higher ranking living closer to the emperor’s palace.
As we wove through the narrow streets on the rickshaw, Apple, my lovely guide who speaks excellent English, shared history, tradition, and stories. (I wish I’d had a voice recorder because I forgot so much.) She told me “hutong” is Mongul word meaning “water well.” During the Hun occupation, as they took their cattle down the narrow alleys for water each morning, the Chinese asked where they were going. The Huns responded, “the hutong.” The Chinese, misinterpreting, took that to mean the narrow streets.
Apple also explained that the narrow alleys (streets) are created by quadrangles (“siheyuan”) consisting of a center courtyard surrounded by four large apartments. Originally, one family lived here, with space for the parents, children, grandparents, servants, and possibly a concubine or two. Now as many as 10 or more families occupy this space.
This doorway leads into one such courtyard. The door and frame are painted with the traditional red, which symbolizes good fortune and joy. The threshhold, now worn, kept out evil spirits who could hop only so high.
Look through the doorway. The bicycles, boots, stool, mop, and flowers all hint at the lives of these ordinary people who choose to live in this historic and crowded neighborhood rather than in the more modern areas of Beijing.
You can learn more about the hutongs here:
This is a typical entrance into a courtyard in the Hutong Area of Beijing, with the symbolic red door and frame and the worn threshold. Red, the emperor’s color, is used for good luck. The ancient threshold, now worn to almost ground level, was believed to keep out evil spirits. Look inside. Can you imagine the people who make this small courtyard their home? Can you see the bicycles, the mop, the stool? Deep inside, there’s another door, leading to yet another living space.
I was enchanted by the hutongs of Old Beijing. These narrow alleyways/streets are created by courtyards (siheyuan) that house several families (nine where I visited). Walls of the courtyards add privacy and keep out evil spirits who are unable to turn corners. Hutong is a Hun word meaning “water well” The story is that during the Hun occupation, as they took their cattle down the narrow alleys for water each morning, the Chinese asked where they were going. They responded “to the hutong.” The Chinese, misinterpreting, took that to mean the narrow streets.