When I learned in September 1985 I had been invited to retrace the footsteps of Mao Zedong and the Red Army, I started with my history books to review the details of Mao’s Long March, a decisive event in China’s history. I was immensely proud to be a part of a project that would allow me to revisit that period which would radically change the lives of a third of humanity. My previous work in the region explored the modernization of China in various provinces. I photographed the 35th Anniversary of the Chinese Revolution in Beijing amid the jubilant crowds and displays of industrial progress. I was so happy that only a year later I would get to see the other China: rural and archaic. While this was by no means my only trip to China, it stands out as one of my most memorable. I was assigned to photograph the final portion of Mao's Long March through China which ended in northern Shaanxi province in a little triangle formed by three small towns: Yan'an, Zhidan and Wuqi. It was there that Mao ended his 6,000-mile march from 1934 to 1935 and stayed until 1947. From his position tucked away in the caves of Yan'an, he consolidated his power and ended up driving both Chiang Kai-Shek and the Japanese from the country. The region continues to be known as an important historical center of the Chinese Revolution, but stands out at one of the most impoverished and isolated regions of the country. Rain followed me almost without let-up during the eight days I spent in the region and I felt guilty about having my guides carry such heavy bags through the mud and I insisted on carrying them myself. As I slogged through the mud, I saw buses, tractors, trucks and military Jeeps barring the road, buried up to the axels, and thought of the Red Army trekking the same route fifty years before. The landscape is marked by cliffs that people hollowed out centuries ago and made into caves where they continue to live. The cave dwellings consist of only a main room with a curtained door and window covered with rice paper. Everything I saw inside these caves was a photographer’s delight: the antique sewing machines and looms, the cradle that had rocked generations of babies, the chickens and pigs that ran around our feet like pets, the donkeys that turned the stone mills to grind grain, the old women with their stunted feet, even school rooms with carved stone tables for the pupils. At another school I visited, the Nanguan Primary School in Yan'an, the children raised their hands in unison for the morning ritual of saluting the flag, and this scene became one of my most iconic pictures. Along the way, I passed hillsides covered with buckwheat flowers, which were bordered by mobile beehives where honey was collected. I also visited a livestock market where negotiation was silent, in sign language only, and with their hands covered by a traditional cloth as had been done for centuries. While I felt only welcoming from the people, I could never get a moment alone, not even to use the toilet, they all came to see me work, touch my beard and my big nose. Later, when I met the Governor of Wuqi, he told me that I was the first Westerner to visit the region. It was in Yan'an that I found Mao's House: a simple, monastic cave with a bed, a table and two chairs. A bit further away, in another hole in the cliff, he took shelter from the Japanese bombardments. No sooner had I photographed this site than my guides took me to yet another cave that was yet another House of Mao. It became a running joke--he had lived everywhere, had been everywhere, with each cave becoming a sanctuary with its guardian, his wife and their kids. I visited dozens of them, with their whitewashed facades bearing a little red notice, very clean, giving the dates of his stay. Knowing the reasons for my visit, the community elders came to introduce themselves, talking of their “March” and their experiences as soldiers in the Red Army and showing me photos and old letters. Here I was meeting those very survivors of the Long March, the pivotal event that had inspired a generation of Chinese through the historical tremors of the Cultural Revolution. It was all very moving. It was among these villagers that Mao produced the bulk of his work, solidifying the power of Communism in China and his role as Supreme Leader. In a rain-drenched, far-flung province, I came to understand his legacy and what an honor it was for the people to hold a photograph in their hands, as a document of their presence at such a moment in history. What a privilege and immense honor it was for me, one of the first foreign visitors to Yan’an, to retrace Mao’s footsteps and help create another visual record of this pivotal era. New York, 23 May 2018



1985年9月当我得知我受邀重走毛泽东和红军的长征之路时,我开始翻阅历史书籍重温中国历史上那一决定性的决策——长征的所有细节。我非常自豪能成为这个项目的一员,使我得以重新审视那个会彻底改变三分之一人类生命的时期。 之前我在中国的工作探讨了中国多个省份的现代化进程。周围围绕着兴高采烈的人群,观看着工业进步的展示,我拍摄了新中国建国35周年的照片。我特别高兴的是仅仅时隔一年,我就有机会看到中国的另一面:农村地区和古老风俗。虽然这绝不是我仅有的一次到访中国,但绝对是最值得记忆的一次。 我被指派拍摄毛泽东长征的尾声,即位于北部的陕西省,由三个小镇组成的三角形地区:延安、志丹和吴起。正是在这个地方毛泽东结束了1934年到1935年的长征并一直驻军到1947年。隐藏在延安窑洞中,他集聚力量赶走了日本人和蒋介石。 这一地区一直以中国革命的重要历史中心而著称,却伫立在中国最贫困和偏远的区域。 呆在这里的整整八天里,几乎都在下雨。一开始我的向导为我背着重重的包行进在泥地里,我感到很不好意思就坚持自己背。当我几乎被淹没在淤泥中时,我看到了公交车、拖拉机、卡车和军用吉普堵在路上,淤泥到了车轴的位置,我想到了50年前红军也是这样步履艰难的行进在同一条路上。 当地的特色是几个世纪前就被人们挖空的悬崖,改造成用于居住的窑洞。窑洞住宅只有一个主卧室,门和窗都覆盖着宣纸。在这些窑洞里看到的所有东西对于一个摄影师而言都是极其喜悦的:古色古香的缝纫机和织布机,摇过几代宝宝的摇篮, 象宠物一样在我们脚边跑来跑去的鸡和猪, 拉着石磨磨粮食的驴子,裹着小脚的老年妇女,乃至放着石头课桌的学校教室。在我到访的另一个学校——延安南关小学,孩子们清晨举手行礼,向国旗致敬,这一场景也成为我标志性的图片之一。一路上,我路过覆盖着荞麦花的山坡,被采集蜂蜜用的流动蜂箱所包围。我还去了一个进行无声的讨价还价的畜牧市场,他们用一块布来盖住他们谈判的手语,这也是延续几世纪的传统方式。 我感受到人们对我的欢迎,我一直无法独自一个人,哪怕在去厕所时。人们都会过来看我工作,碰我的大胡子和大鼻子。后来,当我遇到吴起镇的镇长时,他告诉我我是第一个来这里的外国人。 在延安我找到了毛泽东的房子:一个简单的类似寺庙的窑洞,里面有一张床,一张桌子和两把椅子。再远一些,在悬崖上的另一个窑洞中,他避开了日军的炸弹轰炸。我刚拍好这个地点,我的向导就又把我带到毛泽东的另一座房子。这最终成了一个笑话——他哪里都住过,哪里都去过,每个窑洞都是这个窑洞看守人和他妻儿的圣地。我去了不下十处,都是白色外墙上贴着红色通知,非常干净,写着他在这里呆过的日期。 知道了我此行的目的后,村里的老者开始介绍他们自己,讲述他们的“长征”和他们在红军当兵的经历,还给我看照片和之前的信件。在这里我遇到了长征的幸存者,长征是经过文化大革命的历史震撼后激励了整整一代人的关键性事件。所有这些都令人动容。 就是在这群村民中,毛泽东完成了大量的工作,整合了中国共产党的力量并成为领袖。在一个阴雨绵绵而偏远的省份,我终于理解了他的遗志,也明白了对于那些手握相片的人来说证明他们曾经历过这个历史时刻是何等的荣耀!而我,第一批拜访延安的外国人之一, 重走毛泽东的足迹并为这个关键时代创造另一个视觉记录,又是怎样的一种荣幸和无限的荣耀呢?

JP Laffont