A disciple's lot: laying stones along a very long road

By Zhao Xu | China Daily | Updated: 2019-09-07 10:33
Part of Twilight Cranes, 2007.[Photo provided to China Daily]

The pictures are mounted in the traditional Chinese format of an accordion fold album, and can thus be viewed one leaf at a time.

"The rhythm of viewing is suddenly interrupted when one arrives at this particular frame," Cherney says.

It will pick up with the next frame, but a jarring note has been dropped into the requiem of history.

A similar contrast occurred when Cherney, photographing in a Buddhist cave-dotted area in southwestern China, was led by a local cultural official into a common household nestled at the foot of a mountain. Through the front door and the living quarters, Cherney found himself standing in the middle of the family kitchen staring into a millennium-old stone carving on the rocky mountain slope that served as the kitchen's back wall.

"There it was, a carved Buddha presiding over a retinue of seasoning bottles placed horizontally on a shelf along the stone wall, face blackened by cooking," Cherney says. "My company told me that this was probably the best way to protect the carving without spending money-no one would run into another person's home and cut the Buddha's head off."

One of his most thoughtful bodies of work is of cranes in their endangered homeland in Poyang Lake in southern China. Cherney is equally inspired by a 17th-century Japanese painting and an ancient stone-carved piece of Chinese calligraphy, with deep cracks across the stele vaguely resembling birds spreading their wings.

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