China Travel Photo of the Week: Summer daze (1987)

Culture | by Aimee Groom
Posted: May 28th, 2011 | Updated: July 13th, 2012 | Comments
Jason Willis_Great Wall 1987 We all know China has changed a lot in the last few decades, and it's changing so fast these days that if you blink you'll miss something. All the new highways, buildings and gawking tourists often make us wish we'd seen it back in say, the 1980s, before the tourist and investment floodgates opened and the rest of the world was rocking out to the Joshua Tree or dancing to Madonna in acid wash jeans and really big hair. Well, courtesy of photographer Jason Willis, you can! Just out of high school in Kansas City and with an older brother working in the US Consulate in Shanghai, 18-year-old Jason took the trip of his young lifetime, spending the summer of 1987 in China—one of only 315,000 US tourists to visit mainland China that year, compared to the 2 million in 2010. This Great Wall of China photo is one of a set of snapshots taken throughout that summer—the year it became a UNESCO world heritage site—check out the rest at his Flickr photostream or website (where he showcases more of his recent creative work). Reminiscing about the trip he says :
"I spent my time mostly walking around Shanghai (and as you can see from the shots there was a little Beijing in there as well), listening to punk rock on my walkman (heh, I remember frequently imagining that, all across the long, long history of the country, I was probably the first person to listen to, I dunno, Government Issue or the Mortal Micronotz there), meeting people who wanted to exchange money or practice their English on me — overall just having a really eye-opening & cool time."
This was back in the days before he was a fully-fledged photographer of course and he also explains how he came to be able to document the trip so well:
"I bor­rowed my girlfriend’s mother’s cam­era for the trip (a Canon with a nice zoom lens, vastly supe­rior to my own $95.00 “Albi­nar” 35mm) and after cradling it with rev­er­ent care for 3 months I fool­ishly packed it into my checked bag for the flight back to the states. It was promptly stolen of course (sorry Emily!), but luck­ily enough the unde­vel­oped film can­is­ters were left untouched."

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