Friday, 5 November 2010

The Adventures of Marco Polo by Michel Yamashita

From 2001 from National Geographic a selection of the most beautiful pictures of Michael Yamashita, accompanying the article " The Adventures of Marco Polo"


Mosaic of Marco Polo
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

In the year 1271 Marco Polo, age 17, set out from Venice with his father and uncle on a journey across Asia. Marco’s account of his 24-year odyssey would reveal a world never before described. Traveling by caravan, the Polos followed ancient trade routes through lands that still evoke Marco’s amazing finds.

Though he revealed little of himself in his widely translated book, The Description of the World, Marco is idealized as a learned explorer on a mosaic in Genoa, Italy, pictured here.

These photos and captions were published in a 2001 in a 2001 National Geographic magazine series on Marco Polo.



Grand Canal, Venice, Italy
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

Venice’s busy Grand Canal retains the aura of the Middle Ages, when the Polo family, successful traders, set sail toward China for a meeting with Kublai Khan. Kublai and other descendents of Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, controlled much of Asia and made passage safe for intrepid merchants.


Mountains, Iran
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

Climate extremes assaulted Marco as he neared the Persian Gulf in Iran. Crossing 8,000-foot (2,438-meter) passes like this one exposed him to cold “one hardly escapes by wearing many clothes.”


Taklimakan Desert, China
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

More than two years into his journey, Marco Polo reached the towering dunes of China’s Taklimakan Desert, riding camelback as visitors still do. Marco spent 17 years in China, returning with tales to astound the Western world.


Snowstorm, China
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

A freak snowstorm in arid western China enchants factory workers on a break near Kashgar. China presented Marco with many marvels: “black stones”—coal—that burn, cities larger than any in Europe, wine made from rice, and the discovery that asbestos comes not from a salamander, as medieval Venetians believed, but from a mineral.


Temples, Myanmar
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

Crossing into a Buddhist realm, Marco provided an early account of Asia’s great monasteries and temples. His interest extended to Myanmar (Burma) and its capital of Pagan, with “the most beautiful towers in the world.”


Yellow Hat Monks, China
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

Monks of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism flock together prior to morning prayers at the Labrang Monastery in Xiahe in Gansu Province, a region populated by “idolaters,” the Christian Marco wrote. Monks intrigued Marco with their fasting, their shaved heads, their “moon calendar,” and the way they “lead life hard.”


Adam’s Peak, Sri Lanka
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

Mountains throw off blankets of clouds at dawn in a view from Adam’s Peak, a pilgrimage site mentioned by Marco on the “Isle of Seilan,” now Sri Lanka. Some believers, Marco reported, came to visit what they held to be the grave of Adam. Others saw signs of the Buddha. Pilgrims still climb the steep, 7,360-foot (2,243-meter) pinnacle.


Brihadishwara Temple, India
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

“Most worship the ox,” wrote Marco about the Hindu faithful in India. He probably witnessed such outpourings of devotion as when a priest at Brihadishwara temple in Thanjavur bathes with curried milk a statue of Nandi, the mount of the god Siva. Marco marveled that Hindus refused to eat beef and smeared their homes with cow dung.


Palazzo San Giorgio, Genoa, Italy
Photograph by Michael Yamashita

Shortly after his return to Venice in 1295 Marco was captured at sea, possibly by pirates. One tradition suggests he was imprisoned in Genoa’s Palazzo San Giorgio, shown here in watery reflection. Marco devoted his prison time to composing his book. On his deathbed in 1324, the legendary adventurer reflected that he had many more stories to tell.

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey GREAT KHAN , Love your blog - for the most part ! And I'd really like to thank you for your june 2009 blog about our book and film , " In the footsteps of Marco Polo " firstly let me say that as far as the subject of the silkroad or Marco Polo goes " The more lovers of it the Merrier " But I'd like to get one thing clear ! Just about every westerner who steps foot in China claims part of Polo's Route ! and it seems that Michel Yamashita and Nat.Geo. can't help but misrepersent themselves ! I've meet Mike and he's a nice man and a fine Photographer - But his book was compiled after years of work in Asia on other assignments and cobbled together after a few extra trips to gather what he had missed . The text by Yamashita has no depth of heart , or understanding and certianly NO ADVENTURE , Sadly for him National Geo felt they had to include an expert on Polo to suppliment the text !But the claim that he retraced Marco Polo's route is a falsehood and a fraud they has been prepetrating on the pubic since 2001 ! It's kind of like Bill Clintons " what the meaning of is , is ? " My question to you and your reader is " What the meaning of retrace is ? " Thank you for you time ! Francis O'Donnell , Author Explorer , and Award winning Documentary filmmaker of the Emmy nominated "In the footsteps of Marco Polo " and the Compaign book of the same name . view at wliw.org/marcopolo

Khubilai said...

Hallo Francis.
Quite frankly I must admit that I don't own the book by Michel Yamashita and that therefor I haven't read it.
However I own a different book by Yamashita about Zheng He, tracing the epic voyages of "China's greatest Explorer".
In fact, the same technique is used as in the book about Marco Polo, great photo's, a well known and appealing name in the title and an expert who does the writing.
Nothing wrong with that, quite the contrary, together with you I agree that the more is written and published about these kind of subjects, the merrier.
The work of Michael Yamashita however can't be compared with your adventures. As you write yourself it is compiling of a series of beautiful photo's and adding a home made story to supplement the photo's as what you did was what Marco Polo did before you, a travel and adventure into the (partly) unknown.
Fot those not familiar with your book and film, have a look at:
http://www.wliw.org/marcopolo/
It certainly is worth the effort!

Michael Yamashita said...

RE: Marco Polo, Nov. 9 post

Dear Khubilai,
I recently was made aware of your website/blog of Nov. 9, 2010, which featured photographs from my story and book about Marco Polo, and included the comments of Francis O’Donnell, a filmmaker and self-proclaimed adventurer. In response to those comments, I would like to set the record straight. I have been a National Geographic photographer for over 30 years, specializing in Asian topics. The Marco Polo story to which you refer ran in three editions of the magazine (May, June and July, 2001) and over an unprecedented 82 pages, and it was the result of a two-year assignment to retrace the route of Marco Polo as accurately as possible. Contrary to Mr. O’Donnell’s comments [… his (Yamashita’s) book was compiled after years of work in Asia on other assignments and cobbled together after a few extra trips to gather what he had missed], the National Geographic does not cobble together stories from stock photography. The stories we do are extensively researched and fact-checked, and the magazine prides itself on its use as an educational and scientific resource to libraries, universities, elementary and secondary schools, as well as to its 40,000,000 readers around the world.

For my Marco Polo story, I started in London in 1999, where I met with Frances Wood, head of the British Library’s Chinese department and author of the book Did Marco Polo Go to China?, to hear her thoughts on the possible routes he might have taken, based on the oldest versions of his book. National Geographic staff writer Mike Edwards and I then set out to follow Marco Polo’s overland route, from Venice, through Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, and on to China. I had never been to Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan before this story, nor have I been back to either country since. The China leg was my first trip to western Xinjiang, Gansu, and Ningxia province on the Silk Road, as well as to Yangchou, Suzhou and Hangzhou, and most of the places I visited in Yunnan. I was there for the express purpose of shooting subjects that Marco Polo mentioned in his book. (Since then, I have returned to cover a subsequent story on the Great Wall [January 2003 ] and to film a documentary on Marco Polo for the National Geographic Channel.)

Retracing Marco Polo’s return trip by sea, I covered Sumatra, Sri Lanka and coastal India, also all for the first time and specifically for pictures that could illustrate the story. Due to financial and time constraints, as well as a limited number of relevant subjects, we skipped the Phillipines, Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Israel and Turkey.

My goal as a photojournalist was to photograph the places Marco Polo wrote about, in as much detail and as accurately as possible and to recreate a sense of the 13th century world that he encountered.

I don’t believe I’ve ever met Mr. O’Donnell, as he suggests, and I do not know the source of his misinformation about my work or what he intends to achieve by spreading it. I am a nice guy and good photographer (thank you, Mr. O’Donnell), and I never claimed to be an adventurer -- just a photographer with a story to tell. In my book, Marco Polo: A Photographer’s Journey (published by White Star, not the National Geographic), as the title suggests, the text is about what it took to shoot the photographs. The introduction, which supplies the historical context for my journey, was written by one of Italy’s foremost Marco Polo scholars, the late Gianni Guadalupi, and his contribution to my book is extensive and encyclopedic. Marco Polo: A Photographer’s Journey is 504 pages, has sold over 240,000 copies and is now published in 13 languages. I suggest you read a copy. If I’m not mistaken, there is a Dutch version. As a person interested in the subject, I think you’ll find it instructive. Thank you for your time.

Michael Yamashita said...

RE: Marco Polo, Nov. 9 post

Dear Khubilai,
I recently was made aware of your website/blog of Nov. 9, 2010, which featured photographs from my story and book about Marco Polo, and included the comments of Francis O’Donnell, a filmmaker and self-proclaimed adventurer. In response to those comments, I would like to set the record straight. I have been a National Geographic photographer for over 30 years, specializing in Asian topics. The Marco Polo story to which you refer ran in three editions of the magazine (May, June and July, 2001) and over an unprecedented 82 pages, and it was the result of a two-year assignment to retrace the route of Marco Polo as accurately as possible. Contrary to Mr. O’Donnell’s comments [… his (Yamashita’s) book was compiled after years of work in Asia on other assignments and cobbled together after a few extra trips to gather what he had missed], the National Geographic does not cobble together stories from stock photography. The stories we do are extensively researched and fact-checked, and the magazine prides itself on its use as an educational and scientific resource to libraries, universities, elementary and secondary schools, as well as to its 40,000,000 readers around the world.

For my Marco Polo story, I started in London in 1999, where I met with Frances Wood, head of the British Library’s Chinese department and author of the book Did Marco Polo Go to China?, to hear her thoughts on the possible routes he might have taken, based on the oldest versions of his book. National Geographic staff writer Mike Edwards and I then set out to follow Marco Polo’s overland route, from Venice, through Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran, and on to China. I had never been to Iran, Iraq or Afghanistan before this story, nor have I been back to either country since. The China leg was my first trip to western Xinjiang, Gansu, and Ningxia province on the Silk Road, as well as to Yangchou, Suzhou and Hangzhou, and most of the places I visited in Yunnan. I was there for the express purpose of shooting subjects that Marco Polo mentioned in his book. (Since then, I have returned to cover a subsequent story on the Great Wall [January 2003 ] and to film a documentary on Marco Polo for the National Geographic Channel.)

Retracing Marco Polo’s return trip by sea, I covered Sumatra, Sri Lanka and coastal India, also all for the first time and specifically for pictures that could illustrate the story. Due to financial and time constraints, as well as a limited number of relevant subjects, we skipped the Phillipines, Vietnam and Thailand, as well as Israel and Turkey.

My goal as a photojournalist was to photograph the places Marco Polo wrote about, in as much detail and as accurately as possible and to recreate a sense of the 13th century world that he encountered.

Michael Yamashita said...

RE: Marco Polo, Nov. 9 post

Dear Khubilai,
Dear Khubilai,
I don’t believe I’ve ever met Mr. O’Donnell, as he suggests, and I do not know the source of his misinformation about my work or what he intends to achieve by spreading it. I am a nice guy and good photographer (thank you, Mr. O’Donnell), and I never claimed to be an adventurer -- just a photographer with a story to tell. In my book, Marco Polo: A Photographer’s Journey (published by White Star, not the National Geographic), as the title suggests, the text is about what it took to shoot the photographs. The introduction, which supplies the historical context for my journey, was written by one of Italy’s foremost Marco Polo scholars, the late Gianni Guadalupi, and his contribution to my book is extensive and encyclopedic. Marco Polo: A Photographer’s Journey is 504 pages, has sold over 240,000 copies and is now published in 13 languages. I suggest you read a copy. If I’m not mistaken, there is a Dutch version. As a person interested in the subject, I think you’ll find it instructive. Thank you for your time.
(PS please see my previous comment.)

silk road said...

thx for great infor. it helps me and many others to understand the mystery of silk road.

cantueso said...

Yes, that is a great photographer. I always thought that photography was useless, because photos are so forgettable.