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Liang Dong: I'm Just An Art Worker



This is an interview with Yang Dong, a Great Wall photographer. This article has been translated from Chinese. On a whim, he picked up the camera. During backpacking, he used photography to connect with nature. Along the way, he discovered his love for photography and turned his interest into a lifelong dream. How did he become attached to the Great Wall after working in landscape photography? In today's interview, we hear the story of Yang Dong, a Great Wall Photographer. 


Yang Dong and Billingham Hadley One

Yang Dong and the Billingham Hadley One at the Great Wall of China


Could you tell us something about yourself? What made you decide to become a photographer? 

I'm a Great Wall photographer and I've been photographing the Great Wall for six years. I got into photography in 2013. At the time, I was studying at Yangtze University. Yangtze University is located in Jingzhou city, Hubei Province. Occasionally on weekends, I would go to the ancient city of Jingzhou with my classmates to stroll. I saw many tourists taking photos with professional cameras, while I took photos with my mobile phone. I also wanted to try my hand at professional photography, so with my parents' funding I got my first SLR camera. Later, I often climbed mountains and stayed on mountains alone, recording the beauty of nature with my camera and describing my feelings about that beauty. From 2013 to 2014, I spent a year backpacking and photographing. I have traveled to nearly 30 provinces (municipalities) and regions in China. It experienced the beauty of the river, mountains and cultural customs. A yearning for the beauty of the country grew in my heart. 


Cloud Bay by Yang Dong
Cloud Bay by Yang Dong


Did you study photography, or did you learn it by yourself?

I studied photography for one month. At the beginning of 2015, I studied at Beijing Film Academy. Here I met Xiao Dianchang, the first teacher in my photography career. At the end of the course, the teacher wrote one word on the blackboard, 'Specialise', and told me that it is very important to find the right subject matter for photography. I took those words to heart. I knew that my strength lies in landscape photography, but I did not think that I would become attached to the Wall. At the time, I tried to photograph the Forbidden City, Beihai, and Summer Palace. However, I always felt that it was lacking in new ideas.


'Stretch long and unbroken' by Yang Dong

'Stretch long and unbroken'. Photo by Yang Dong


Do you have any idols in the photography industry? Who is it? Why is that?

Yes, for example, photographer Chen Changfen. He began to take pictures of the Great Wall in 1965, and hundreds of his works have been collected abroad. Photographer Zhou Wanping, lived at the foot of the Great Wall and recorded its beauty with his lens. There is also the Great Wall in the lens of Yang Yueluan, Vice Chairman of the China Photographers Association. His works are not only magnificent but also have a quiet and solemn artistic conception. As a young photographer, I have been trying to learn from them.


Full Moon by Yang Dong

Full Moon by Yang Dong


Sunrise over the Jinshanling Great Wall

Sunrise over the Jinshanling Great Wall by Yang Dong


Why did you choose the Great Wall as your shooting target?

In September 2015, by chance, I climbed the Jinshanling Great Wall in Hebei province and saw the magnificent scenery of the Great Wall between the clouds. I was deeply moved by the labour and wisdom of the people. At that moment, I felt that the accumulation of beauty in my heart had reached a breaking point. I found a theme for my photography. I want to record this culture on camera and from then on, I began my journey of recording the Great Wall with a lens.


Could you tell us something about the Great Wall?

It used to be widely believed that the Great Wall began at Shanhaiguan Pass in the east and ended at Jiayuguan Pass in the west. In fact, from Shanhaiguan, to the east of the Yalu River, there are more than 1,000 kilometers of the Ming Great Wall, which is under the jurisdiction of Liaodong Town; one of the nine towns of the Ming Dynasty.


East of the Ming Great Wall - Hushan Great Wall in Dandong, Liaoning province

East of the Ming Great Wall - Hushan Great Wall in Dandong, Liaoning province by Yang Dong


The Ming Dynasty was the last dynasty to build the Great Wall and most of the Great Wall that people see today was built at this time.

The total length of the Ming Great Wall was 8,851.8 KM. The Great Wall that was built in the Qin and Han Dynasties and in the early periods exceeded 10,000 KM. The total length of the wall was more than 21,000 KM, which could circle the earth halfway.

Most of the Qin’s and Han’s Great Walls were built of rammed earth, which can be seen in Gansu.


The western end of the Ming Great Wall - Jiayuguan first pier in Gansu

The western end of the Ming Great Wall - Jiayuguan first pier in Gansu


The outer walls and towers of the Ming Great Wall were mostly made out of blue bricks, and the middle was also made of rammed earth, such as the Badaling Great Wall. 


The Great Wall at Badaling in Yanqing, Beijing

The Great Wall at Badaling in Yanqing, Beijing


There are tens of thousands of bricks with characters on the Wall of Jinshanling Great Wall. These bricks are called writing bricks, and they show the date they were made and the troop number, such as " Left construction team in the Ming Dynasty Wanli five years ", " Zhenru cavalry construction team in the Ming Dynasty Wanli six years ", and so on.


Writing bricks on the Great Wall by Yang Dong

Writing bricks on the Great Wall by Yang Dong


There is a diamond-shaped Huajia Kiln Great Wall in Yanqing, Beijing. The zigzag Great Wall in Shanxi, and the chair-shaped Great Wall in Shaanxi.


Zigzag of the Great Wall by Yang Dong

Zigzag of the Great Wall - Baicaokou, Daixian county, Shanxi Province


The Golden Great Wall on the grasslands of Inner Mongolia is also a Great Wall made of rammed earth. It was 8- 10 meters wide and 4 - 5 meters deep. The main dike is 6- 8 meters high and 8 - 10 meters wide. Dike materials are local materials to where the wall was built. When building the Great Wall on the flat ground, the builders dug earthwork and rammed it. When they built the Great Wall on the mountain, the builders built it with stone. This is what I have learned in the years I have been photographing the Great Wall.


The Golden Great Wall on the Steppe by Yang Dong

The Golden Great Wall on the Steppe - Hexigten Banner, Inner Mongolia


You've photographed the Great Wall so many times. What do you need to do to prepare for it? What was your most memorable shooting experience?

I mainly look at the weather in advance. The more inclement and worse the weather is, the easier it is for me to take good photos. In the summer, whenever it thundered or rained, I would rush to the Great Wall.


Sea of clouds of Jiankou Great Wall by Yang Dong

The sea of clouds of Jiankou Great Wall - by Yang Dong


The luckiest memory is have is when I took photos of the Jian Kou Great Wall in the winter of 2015. Knowing that it would snow the next day and there might be a sea of clouds, I arrived at the location with my tent on my back before 3:00 a.m. and waited. I remember I was the first one to arrive. After dawn, more than 100 photographers had come to the shooting site. However, the snow did not stop that day, the mountain fog-shrouded, and the Great Wall appeared and disappeared from time to time, which failed to achieve the desired effect. Many photographers left, and I pitched a tent in the watchtower for the night. But the next day the sea of clouds still did not appear... On day three and day four, there were only three photographers left. I was upset, and I wanted to call it a day and go home, but I stuck it out for another night. At daybreak, the sea of clouds finally appeared. At the moment of pressing the shutter, the hunger, cold, and loneliness I had experienced these days turned into joy. This lucky joy came from trying to "hang in there".


Snow in Shanxi Niangzi pass Great Wall by Yang Dong

'Snow tells the story of a thousand years' Shanxi Niangzi pass Great Wall - photo by Yang Dong


Do you have any other experiences of the Great Wall that you would like to share with us? 

On January 6, 2020, after learning that there was heavy snow in Yangquan Niangziguan, I drove there alone from Beijing. With about 15 centimetres of snow on the highway, visibility was very low. Many vehicles stopped in service areas because of the red alert. Several drivers advised me not to move forward because it was too dangerous. They said even after the highway, there is still mountain road to go. But I still decided to go to Niangziguan.


I was very panicked when walking on the road, but I had a belief in my heart: I had to fight for my dream! It took me 10 hours to walk more than 400 kilometres and It was one o'clock the next morning when I arrived at Niangziguan. In order to get a picture of the Great Wall after the snow for the first time, I slept in my car. Five hours later, when it was just beginning to dawn, I climbed to the Mianhe Iron Bridge and set the camera to take the time-lapse and aerial shots with a drone, finally I accomplished the purpose of this trip.


The Jiayuguan Pass after snow at the Great Wall by Yang Dong

The Jiayuguan Pass after snow - photo by Yang Dong


I also had an unforgettable snow day shooting experience in December 2018 . I heard it might snow at Jiayuguan, so I took a 22-hour train ride from Beijing to get there. I went to the Great Wall of Jiayuguan with my camera equipment and my drone. After a day of waiting, in the evening it finally cleared up. The electronic equipment under the low temperature will consume battery power very quickly, especially at - 28, 29 (°C) degrees centigrade in this environment. Drones may only have one chance to take off. My tablet had shut down because of the cold, and if it didn't reboot before sundown, I would have missed the perfect shot. I opened my jacket and put the tablet inside my clothes. I tried to use my body temperature to wake up the tablet. My upper body was numb at that time, I couldn't even press the shutter with my index finger. When I took this picture, I had to use my middle finger. After about 3 shots, the tablet turned off again, so I was lucky to get this shot.


Standing, Jiayugua, Gansu Province by Yang Dong

Standing, Jiayugua, Gansu Province - photo by Yang Dong


The next day, at 4 o 'clock in the morning, I was ready to set out. I found that my hands and feet had begun to swell and itch. I continued to go to Jiayuguan Guan City with frostbite. At sunrise, I took pictures of Jiayuguan Pass and The Qilian Mountain after the snow, and then I edited in Jiayuguan for 14 days.


What is your favourite season and time frame to visit and photograph the Great Wall? Why?

On a summer morning, after rain. There will be a sea of clouds. The Great Wall appears from time to time among the vast mountains, like a wonderland. If you are lucky, you can see the Tyndall effect.


Morning at the Great Wall by Yang Dong

Morning at the Great Wall - photo by Yang Dong


The beacon of a great nation by Yang Dong

The beacon of a great nation - photo by Yang Dong


Most photographers have a personal favourite. What do you think is the most memorable photograph you have ever taken and why?  

One of the most stressful moments I can remember was taking this photo. I was looking for the location of the camera on the Jinshanling Great Wall. I walked for a long time with the equipment, but I couldn't find the ideal location. As I sat on the steps to rest, I suddenly noticed a dark cloud coming up in the sky, shaped like billowing smoke after burning. I imagined a picture of a beacon burning smoke and my mind was transported to the ancient battlefield. The life of the Great Wall. So I quickly took out my camera, adjusted the aperture, and ran along the Great Wall. I was looking for the perfect intersection of clouds and beacon towers. I wanted to get a picture that looked like a reappearance of the beacon. I still remember how my heart was racing.


How did you know Billingham bags?

When I first saw it in a magazine, I was attracted by its texture. It made a deep impression on me at that time. Later on, I saw many details online and learned about its brand history, which made me feel that the products were unique.


Billingham Hadley One Navy Canvas Chocolate Leather by Yang Dong

Billingham Hadley One in Navy Canvas & Chocolate Leather by Yang Dong


Can you share your feelings of when you use it Hadley One for the first time?

The material feels good, and the wide straps are very labour-saving. Whether it's clothes or bags, if the material is comfortable, I will feel that it is part of me. I feel that way with this bag. The bag is practical with many layers inside, which unknowingly gives life a "sense of order". The insert is very soft and it can play a good role in protecting valuable equipment. Not to mention the shape of the bag, its colour scheme, and its design are highly adaptable to different scenes. It's great both in the city or outdoors.


Yang Dong with his Billingham Hadley One Camera Bag at the Great Wall of China

Yang Dong and the Billingham Hadley One


What equipment do you put in Billingham bags now?

Canon 5D4, 16-35mm lens, 24-70mm lens, Fujifilm X100T, DJI ROYAL 2 UAV, GoPro, headband, hat, watch, mobile phone, tablet, etc.


Billingham Hadley One and Yang Dong's equipment

Billingham Hadley One and Yang Dong's equipment


What advice would you give to a new photographer who wants to take up photography in the future?

Stick to your favourite subject and if you persevere you will see results. 


Photo by Yang Dong

'Sincerity smooth the way to success' photo by Yang Dong.


Do you have any plans for your photography career in the future? Like publishing a book of your work or putting on an exhibition? What are your next steps?

Recently, I have been busy taking pictures of the Great Wall in Beijing. I am preparing a picture album called Memories of the Great Wall in Beijing. This is a project supported by the Beijing Federation of Literary and Art Circles.


The Great Wall by Yang Dong

'Little Adventures'. The Great Wall by Yang Dong


I'm going to shoot on the Great Wall in eastern Hebei in August. From September to November, I will take pictures of the Great Wall in Shaanxi. In winter I will continue to chase the snow on the Great Wall. At the end of 2019, I decided to shoot a series of photographs focussing on the snow scenery of "Thirteen Passes of the Great Wall". I've shot six of them : Huangyaguan, Juyongguan, Zijingguan, Pingxingguan, Yanmen Pass, Jiayuguan. Seven more passes are waiting for me.


Flame by Yang Dong

'Flame'. The Great Wall by Yang Dong


I have taken more than 400,000 photos of the Great Wall however I have only photographed 1/10 of the Great Wall so far. I hope I can take pictures of other parts of the Great Wall that I haven't taken yet.


Where can we reach you?

Weibo: @杨东长城摄影师
Douyin, Toutiao, Kuaishou, Tubug, 500px: @长城摄影师杨东



The bag featured in this article:

Billingham Hadley One Camera & Laptop Bag - Sage FibreNyte / Chocolate Leather

 Hadley One Camera/Laptop Bag


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