Groundbreaking Photos from China's Great Wall: The Forgotten Story to Premier in the Bay Area

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China's Great Wall: The Forgotten Story documents the colorful and violent history of the Great Wall through enormous panoramic photographs. The exhibit depicts sites on the Wall where important Mongol and Manchu raids occurred in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, and capture the points of view of defenders or raiders. China's Great Wall: The Forgotten Story will be in the Bay Area from September 17 through October 22 at the 3A Gallery in San Francisco.

China's Great Wall: The Forgotten Story documents the colorful and violent history of the Great Wall through enormous panoramic photographs. This project is a collaborative effort between Jonathan Ball, an Oakland-based photographer, and David Spindler, a historian living in Beijing who focuses on the Great Wall. From September 17 through October 22, Bay Area art enthusiasts and history buffs will have a chance to see this unique installation on display at 3A Gallery in South Park, San Francisco's artistic South of Market neighborhood.

The photographs depict sites on the Wall where important Mongol and Manchu raids occurred in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, and capture the points of view of defenders or raiders. They were taken on the anniversaries of the raids, as close as possible to the time of day when the fighting happened. Ball made the photographs using a panoramic or a 4x5 camera using conventional film, then stitched the images together digitally. Each photograph stands over three feet tall, and stretches from 9 feet to over 30 feet wide. Spindler unearthed the vivid and colorful details of long-forgotten battle stories from Ming era (1368-1644) documents scattered throughout libraries in China, Taiwan and Japan. These stories are contained in detailed captions of the photographs.

Exhibition images were culled from photographs taken during twenty days of shooting in 2007 and 2008 in nearly as many locations along eastern sections of the Great Wall. "We thought our methodology was the best way to capture a sense of space and time relating to a historical event," says Spindler. "These photographs put you as close as possible in the modern era to the point of view of people who attacked or defended the Great Wall during these battles--the vegetation is the same, the light is the same, the time of year and even the time of day is the same."

The exhibition's highlight is a large, circular installation suspended from the ceiling that features a panoramic photograph inside. "The subject matter demands it--this is the best way we could think of to exhibit a full 360 degree photo," Ball explains.

Ball and Spindler originally met at Harvard Law School, but shortly after graduation shifted their focus to interests outside of law. They reconnected in Beijing in 2006, and started discussing a collaborative project within the scope of their professional pursuits.

The opening reception is open to the public from 5:30-8:00 p.m. on September 17. There will be a private viewing for the media from 4:00pm to 5:30pm on September 17. Members of the press who would like to attend this viewing should RSVP at 510-271-0640 x 101 or General Graphics Exhibitions ( and TsingTao Beer have contributed their support to the exhibition at 3A Gallery. Some of the photographs can be seen at

Works from this project will also be on display at the offices of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in New York City from September 22 through June 2010. Members of the public may make appointments to see this exhibition by contacting Leona Hewitt at lhewitt (at) rbf (dot) org.

For more information on China's Great Wall: The Forgotten Story, please visit the 3A Gallery website at or contact Dan Cohen at 510-271-0640 x 101.

3A Gallery was founded nearly 20 years ago by architect Mark Horton, and exhibits fine art and design related to architecture and the built environment. Past exhibits at 3A include the photographs of Livia Corona, Todd Hido, Doug Jackson, Dennis Letbetter, Keith Peterson, Julius Shulman, and Katherine Westerhout, the architectural/design work of Julie Eizenberg, Hodgetts + Fung, Jones Partners, Enrique Norten, and Antoine Predock, as well as the drawings and sculpture of Willett Moss. 3A Gallery is located on 101 South Park, telephone 415-543-3347.


Jonathan Ball (born 1972) was first exposed to photography when he was a child, as he watched his father at work in the darkroom he built in the basement of the family's house. By the time he was eleven, he was making and developing his own photographs.

Over the years, his work has ranged from photojournalism to architectural photography to independent projects. The independent projects include a study of mobile dwellings (photographing factories where mobile homes, RV's and sailing yachts are made), a series of portraits and interviews of foreigners living in Prague in 1994 (all made in the subject's home or workplace), photographs made with "cubist" pinhole cameras that he makes (these cameras photograph a subject from many points of view simultaneously), and an ongoing series of images of things and people he sees and experiences in his daily life.

Born and raised in suburban Maryland and educated at Stanford, Ball lives and works in Oakland, California.

David Spindler (born 1967) is one of the world's leading historians of the Great Wall. In 15 years of research, he has done extensive fieldwork in the Greater Beijing area, while comprehensively researching existing Ming-era texts on the entire Great Wall at Chinese-language library collections worldwide. In addition to a J.D. from Harvard Law School, Spindler holds an A.B. in Asian Studies from Dartmouth and an M.A. in history from Peking University. His article on the "Raid of the Scorned Mongol Woman" will be published this fall in Ming Studies, a scholarly journal. He has been profiled by Peter Hessler in The New Yorker, has appeared on the Today Show, and has been featured in two Discovery Channel documentaries.

Spindler grew up in a suburb of Boston and now lives in Beijing.


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Dan Cohen

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