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Xiamen & Surroundings A Photographic Exploration Nathaniel I. C贸rdova, Ph.D. 1

Cover photograph: “Morning Boats, PRC.� The cover image and the selections above were taken and processed with an Apple iPhone 3GS, on the outskirts of Xiamen.


Xiamen & Surroundings A Photographic Exploration

Photography & Text by Nathaniel I. C贸rdova, Ph.D.


All text and photographs © Nathaniel I. Córdova, 2010 All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. A .PDF version of this book will be available online. Said .PDF version may be freely downloaded for personal, non-commercial use. 1st Edition © 2010, Nathaniel I. Córdova, Xiamen & Surroundings

Author Contact: Nathaniel I. Córdova Exposure Latitudes, LLC Oregon, U.S.


For Michelle, Alex, Phoenix, and Terra, without whom dreams are not

Joss sticks burn at the Lao-Tzu (founder of the Taoist school of thought and presumed author of the Tao Te Ching) Rock at the foot of Mount Qingyuan, Fujian Province, China.


Preface Xiamen & Surroundings is my contribution to the 2010 Solo Photo Book of the Month project, otherwise known as SoFoBoMo ( Now in its third year, SoFoBoMo is the brainchild of a few folks who sought to encourage and inspire those of us with a love for photography to initiate a photographic project and carry it to completion, including putting together a book, in a loosely defined one-month timespan. SoFoBoMo’s rules are simple: the photographer picks a 31 day period that (this year) starts no earlier than June 1, 2010, and ends no later than July 31, 2010. The photographs and book must be completed within that 31 day period. The book must have at least 35 images, and must be uploaded to SoFoBoMo’s site at Although there are no other restrictions on projects, I think the expectation is for photographers to use this opportunity to “stretch” and explore new subjects and ideas. This is my first SoFoBoMo completed project. The images contained here were all taken while I taught a workshop on new media and technology at Willamette University’s Advocacy Institute in Xiamen, People’s Republic of China. Willamette’s Advocacy Institute is implemented in association with the International Debate Education Association, and “helps young citizens of the world gain advocacy skills for promoting sustainable ways of life” (Advocacy Institute). This was also my first visit to China, and I must say it was a wonderful experience! All images in the book were taken with a Nikon D300, and either a Tamron 17-50mm 2.8, a Nikon 105mm 2.5ai, or a Sigma 10-20mm 4-5.6. Other gear included a Nikon SB-900, and a Feisol tripod (with RRS ballhead). Although as part of my iPhoneographic pursuits I also captured images with an iPhone 3GS, except for the cover image no other iPhone images are included in this book. If you wish to see the images in larger size please visit:


Sections of Xiamen University campus. The original shots have been processed here as HDR (high dynamic range) images with Photomatix Pro.


Introduction Believe it or not the images included in this .pdf book are peripheral and tangential to my original mission in Xiamen, China. I went to Xiamen as instructor in Willamette University’s Advocacy Institute (implemented with the International Debate Education Association). As instructor I expected to document the program, photographing student activities and our casual trip. Although my responsibilities did not include formal instruction every day, the demands of the schedule kept me most of the time within the confines of Xiamen University. The shots you see here then were primarily taken as I ventured with friends and colleagues outside the walls of the University on simple walking explorations of the urban landscape around us. The images here also do not include my work documenting the Advocacy Institute project, as I wanted to keep those separate, Moreover, I welcomed the challenge of photographing in Xiamen given the limitations imposed by my ignorance of the language and culture, as well as the more mundane concerns over time, transportation, and so forth (not to mention oppressive heat and humidity!). Given such limitations, the images don’t do justice to Xiamen, or China for that matter. These images are most definitely a truncated, sidewalk and tourist view (albeit what I consider a mindful view) of the city, and a few other locations. As you will notice, my eye focused on “emplacements” -- as space of intersections and placing (putting in place) in the urban locale. I was intrigued by the ordering of the everyday in Xiamen, by the space that everyday life, and seemingly everyday objects and locations, occupied or inhabited and how such spaces shape our lives. It was impossible to avoid reflecting on my own displacement and lack of fit for the moment as I hopped around from place to place, taking a shot of an alleyway here only to, minutes later, take another shot somewhere else. Maintaining a mindful disposition under those conditions is a challenge for those of us who like to take our time with our photography! What I am calling emplacements here definitely included also the people embedded in those spaces. Everywhere I went the people seemed warm and friendly, surprised at seeing us, curious about our presence. I was surprised at how busy everybody seemed to be -- coming and going to and fro, constantly active in some pursuit -- often eating or preparing food in street food stalls. The images reflect some of that activity, as well as living and working spaces. Given the prevalence of bicycles, motorized bikes, scooters, and motorcycles, and how important they seemed to be to everyday life, I spent plenty of time considering how those shaped the life of the citizens -- hence the many images included. Finally, Buddhist philosophy is perhaps one of the primary sources of order for the people. Nanputuo temple sits right next to Xiamen University, a beautiful ancient temple teeming with many visitors. I’ve included a few shots from my visit to the temple. As cliche as it may sound, the experience was incredible. Walking the streets was encountering texture, smells, patterns, lines, colors, contrasts... most often in a cacophonous way, sudden, “in your face.” For the tourist these things are at the forefront of our awareness -- every new experience to be distilled for how it differs from our customary lives -- quickly cataloguing the impressions and, if so inclined, pointing and shooting. My own take was to slow down with all of it: slow down my seeing, eating, walking... judging. To be sure, there is a quickness of response that good photographers, especially street and photojournalists, need to cultivate. However, as a mindfulness practitioner I sought to look deeply and not put everything quickly into containers or boxes. I felt particularly lucky and grateful for the experience of traveling to China knowing that I might not have the chance to return. Such an approach meant that I gave priority to being with a particular subject, often lingering with a particular sensation, instead of shooting everything I saw. With some luck the images here will do the same for you. I hope the images will entice you to slow down, look deeply, and be present. These images are not necessarily windows to Xiamen or China. They are, on the other hand, revealing of what I saw, how I saw it, and what made me stop and take deeper notice while traveling around Xiamen. P.S. Besides simple cropping and contrast, sharpness, and other simple adjustments I have not edited or cloned elements out of any of these images. I adhere to a photojournalism ethics that eschews modifying an image to change what was present in the scene. Hence, although some shots do not make for pretty or optimal images (e.g., white skies in some shots, high ISO noise) they remain what I saw.



“Contrasts.” View of Xiamen skyline from Gulangyu island, a car free island off the coast of Xiamen, in the Fujian Province. © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


Xiamen University main administration building. 漏 2010 Nathaniel I. C贸rdova


Nanputuo temple, first built during the Tang Dinasty (618-907) sits at the foot of Wulaofeng mountain in the southeast of Xiamen island and is a major tourist attraction. 漏 2010 Nathaniel I. C贸rdova


A study in contrasts. “Up from the Street” (fig.1) is a scene with different types of construction and living spaces. Fig. 2 is a small structure at Nanputuo temple in Xiamen. © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


Gulangyu island doorways.


Interior of a Hakka (“guest people”) earthen castle in Fujian province. These Hakka structures are circular, built on hillsides, and usually housed a courtyard and numerous residential use spaces (now many are used for stores catering to tourists) that allowed for tightly knit community life. © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


Building structure surrounding Hakka earthen castle in Fujian Province, China. 漏 2010 Nathaniel I. C贸rdova


Building structure in the vicinity of Hakka earthen castle in Fujian Province, China. 漏 2010 Nathaniel I. C贸rdova


Aaron, my instructional assistant and photographer par excellence, marvels at residential and commercial structures in downtown Xiamen. Facing page shows detail of building in the same area. 漏 2010 Nathaniel I. C贸rdova


“Storefront.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova 14

“Arbus’s Characters.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Beading.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Market Driven Economy?’ Down a street, through a few alleyways, twists and turns, down a few more narrow streets and into markets galore. © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Barefoot Reflections.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Exiting the Labyrinth.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova 19

“China Stoop.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Pineapple King Dreams.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Make You Happy.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Rain Stroll.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Ready or Not.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


A superbly gray and humid day in Gulangyu Island. 漏 2010 Nathaniel I. C贸rdova


“Hakka Kids.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Running the Maze.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova

“Queen of the Fucking Universe.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Cigarette Break.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Gulangyu Umbrella.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“When no one is around.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Ancestor Prayers.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Bowing in the Ten Directions.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Laundry Day, Gulangyu Island.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Upkeep at Nanputuo Temple.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova

“Awakening to the Shutter.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Dreams be Dreams.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova 35

“Awakening to the Buddha-Self.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova 36

“Break by the Shore, Gulangyu Island.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Hakka Village Welcome.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Nap Time in the Market.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Botanical Garden Tram, Xiamen.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Motorcycle Flaneur.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova 41

“Orbital Dreams.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“There She Stood.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“No Time to Waste.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“A walk deferred.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


Upon the Seat.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Mandarin Duck.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“King of Polystyrene Foam” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“In the Land of the Three-Wheeled Bike Taxi.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Workhorse.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Early Fog Bath at Xiamen University.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Sustainable Streetsweeper.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


Small open-air markets seem to be everywhere with a vast array of fruits, vegetables, and trinkets for tourists. 漏 2010 Nathaniel I. C贸rdova


“Honoring the Ancestors.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Chinese Santa?” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“Buddhist Toy Story.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“ Sacred Buddhas and Bodhisattva Burial Ground.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“ Temple Cat.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


“A Lotus for You, a Buddha-to-Be.” © 2010 Nathaniel I. Córdova


About the Author Nathaniel (Nacho) I. Córdova, is Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Media Studies at Willamette University, a private liberal arts university in Salem, Oregon. He teaches courses on Latino Discourse, Public Moral Argument, New Media and Technology, Race, Ethnicity and the Public Sphere, and other contemporary rhetorical theories. He also serves on the faculty of the Latin American Studies, and the American Ethnic Studies programs. Nacho is an avid photographer (Exposure Latitudes, LLC) whose interests revolve around socially conscious photography and photojournalism. He frequently documents student activism, and immigration rallies in the Salem area, and given his mindfulness background, explores photography as mindfulness practice. He blogs infrequently at (under construction right now). Nacho calls iPhoneography a “visual hermeneutic of everyday life” a “technographic” FotoRhetoric. His iPhoneography site is Foto-Rhetoric. He can be reached at Nacho’s brief guide to photographing social protest and civic activism is used by Prensa Comunitaria as training handbook for their staff members. Click here to download the guide in .PDF.



Xiamen 2010  

Solo Photo Book of the Month project on Xiamen and Surroundings, People Republic of China.

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