Snapshot Series: The Forbidden City

Everybody now has a camera whether it’s a professional instrument or just part of a phone…getting it right is not the issue. It is difficult to make a mistake with the sophisticated technology we now have. Making a personal and creative image is a far greater challenge.”  – Michael Kenna

This quote from one of my photography books has stuck with me since I first read it. In today’s age of social media and technology, anyone can take a lovely photo of a lovely place, and so since then, I’ve wondered how to look at something from a new and creative lens. 

Now perhaps this has been done before, but one project I’ve become excited in pursuing is looking at typically “bigger picture” scenes and places through only small details and snapshots. This could be a large city like New York or the world’s largest palace complex: The Forbidden City.

The second time I went to the Forbidden City was with a college trip, and one of the professors remarked how you could easily spend months in the Forbidden City and still discover new things about it. The issue is that given its largeness, you can easily miss the smaller details and art of this ancient imperial Chinese residence. Therefore, I’ve put together my favorite photographs from a number of visits to illustrate the point that sometimes it’s worth it to stop and admire the small things.

Upon entering the Forbidden City, you may notice the worn doornails on the majority of the palace doors. Some are new and shiny since the City has restorations from time to time, but most have been rubbed for luck several thousand times a day.

Fun fact about the Forbidden City: The buildings are earthquake proof. There are five stacks of wooden brackets that can shift the weight onto columns resting on the ground. In the history of the ancient city that dates back to the 1400s, none of the buildings have fallen as a result of earthquakes. Below the stacked brackets you can see beautifully carved and painted dragons and phoenixes throughout the city. Dragons protected the emperor and phoenixes protected the empress.

The Forbidden City was the residence of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and boasts over eight hundred buildings. There are quite a few styles of window panes that you’ll notice walking through the complex which are quite fun to photograph and play around with lighting and the incredibly detailed and colorful backgrounds.

Red is the color you will see most often in China, and you especially won’t miss it at the Forbidden city. Symbolizing fire, red stands for good luck and fortune in Chinese culture, and the color was used heavily by the Chinese ruling for the governing buildings.

Another color you’ll notice is yellow. The roofs of the Forbidden City are yellow since it is the emperor’s color. It is quite common for older imperial buildings to be roofed this way in China. In the sun, they are quite eye-catching, and if you view the Forbidden City from an elevated level in the distance, a sea of yellow is the first thing you will notice about this beautiful place.

The amount of color in this palace complex is just lovely. Everywhere you look you can find unique designs and art through the palace. It truly is amazing what the Forbidden City has to offer from a photographic or artistic perspective.

Not only are there painted doors and gold phoenixes, but there is also beautiful dragons and clouds carved into white marble balustrades framing the red buildings throughout the complex.

The Forbidden City has about every pattern and color and texture you can imagine. Hopefully, one day, you can see it all for yourself, but don’t forget the little beauties and intricacies in the grandness of this amazing structure.




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