With a year into my studio and my business, I had very little cash in the bank. So I did what any rational person would do and bought a plane ticket to China.
I was getting a lot of work shooting interiors and exteriors in Chicago, an architectural capital, and really didn’t have a portfolio that portrayed my work and sense of style in that area. I was attracted to the energy, growth and regeneration that was going on in China. I wasn’t fully briefed, but I knew I wanted some of what they were having.
China provided a unique opportunity to 1) travel and 2) photograph the latest and greatest interior and exterior spaces that were being built in anticipation of the upcoming Olympic games.
It was epic in a way I didn’t understand at the time.
I liaised with the publisher of a design magazine to help grease the wheels in getting through the front door.
I got to uncover the “new China” that was emerging behind the cracks of communism and pre-Olympic euphoria.
It was a fascinating experience, to say the least, and my first time shooting Philippe Starck’s work.
Through a friend of a friend at Getty Images, I found a fixer to help translate and organize access to spaces. She was a lovely graduate student named Wu Yun. We traversed Beijing together, left, right and backwards, going to the city’s hottest underground restaurants, hotels and clubs. Keep in mind that this was a county where Wallpaper magazine and travel guides — publications that focused on design — were still banned.
I’ll never forget being in a cab with Wu Yun on the last leg of our trip and asking what her favorite part was. To my surprise, she was not at all impressed with the venues or the culinary tastings. She said that when she relayed to her friends and family what she was up to, no one could believe there was such a thing as a young, female photographer, and that she was working for one.
Her words struck me like a rock. It had never occurred to me that as a female creative entrepreneur, I wasin the .001 percent. Who I was and what I did was actually shocking to other people. I had a newfound sense of gratitude for my profession and freedom to practice it.
When I returned to China 10 years later, I was stunned by the political and cultural change that had taken place. It was almost unrecognizable to me. Places change. A lot.
Which is why I always say travel wherever you can, while you can.
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