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Discover Timeless Beauty in the Ancient Solar Calendar

An ancient muse speaks to the photo-philosopher Chen Fan.

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One of the most overlooked treasures of the world is the ancient Chinese solar calendar. The impact of this ancient calendar on human development is up there with the Chinese written language, and yet most of the world remains unaware of its existence. Photographer Chen Fan hopes to change that, with his aesthetic photography.

The 24 Solar Terms

The ancient Chinese solar calendar encourages a higher state of consciousness by connecting the simple act of knowing what day it is to the rhythms and poetry of nature. Its 24 terms are like mini-months, each with its own history of poems, songs, and festivals that have developed over the centuries.

These 15-day periods have rich names imbued with meanings not fully captured in their translation. For instance, imagine how much more meaning “First Fresh Snow” has than “the second week of November,” or “Awakening of Insects” than “early March.”

The names themselves prompt reflection on the season and give people the chance to appreciate the significance and beauty of those natural patterns.

Aesthetic Photography: 24 Solar Term of Spring Begins
Spring Begins, She County, Anhui Province, China. “The Land of Peach Blossoms, where it’s said that people in neighbouring countries can see each other, and the sounds of chickens and dogs can be heard. I can think of nothing better.” —Chen Fan

Chen Fan’s Aesthetic Photography: Solar Terms on Earth

The latest artist to gain recognition for his homage to the solar terms is photographer Chen Fan. Chen has a degree in philosophy. He says it was the solar terms that first inspired him to write down his deeper thoughts and pursue his studies.

Solar Terms on Earth, his beautiful new table book, brings the ancient wisdom of the Chinese calendar to life with images of contemporary life in the countryside.

Flipping Through the photos in Solar Terms on Earth is like a dialogue with the 5,000-year-old spirit of ancient Chinese culture. Each aesthetic photography is an homage to a solar term, each with a unique characteristic.

“The book wasn’t created intentionally,” Chan says: “the theme emerged organically while collating work over a period of years.”

The aesthetic photography captures the cherry trees on the shores of West Lake in Hangzhou; the fishermen’s nighttime singing in Guilin, Guangxi; and a camel team in Dunhuang, Gansu Province. It shows the harmony between man and nature.

Aesthetic Photography: 24 Solar Term of Winter Solstice
Winter Solstice, Hong Village, Anhui Province, China. “As it turns out, there are some places that are difficult to return to.” —Chen Fan

The Unforgettable Experience

Chen’s most memorable shooting experience was Tibet. Standing on the rooftop of the world, Chen was alone at a lake. It was early morning, and he wanted to shoot the sunrise, but thick, low clouds covered the field and blocked the sun, creating a new visual impact.

“At that time,” said Chen, “there was only one tourist walking by the lake. In this particular morning’s sunlight, this man seemed to be walking in a picture composed of heaven and earth. At that moment, I felt that humans are trivial and not even worth mentioning in the presence of nature. A strong feeling of awe arose in my heart.”

Aesthetic Photography: 24 solar terms of Slight Heat
Slight Heat, Nam Co, Tibet, China. “Go to the lake at 6 o’clock in the morning, and stand between heaven and earth. Nature inspires awe.” —Chen Fan

Ancient Roots in Aesthetic Photography

The Tao Te Ching is an important text that has impacted the cultural and spiritual landscapes in China. In it, Lao Tzu describes China as a small country with a few residents. Thousands of years later, people in China are piled on top of one another. The competition is fierce, the land polluted. The people suffer from so much stress that harmony seems like a fairy tale.

But if a person is able to slip away into nature, the chains of modern reality can be cast off. Chen says, “Everyone can enjoy a life that is adapted to nature—as well as the needs of the ‘self.’ That journey can even make an adult feel like they’re living in a fairy tale. I believe that’s why so many people like my work. That feeling has potent healing powers.”

Aesthetic Photography: 24 solar terms of Summer Begins
Summer Begins, Saihanba, Inner Mongolia, China. “The morning mist shrouds the grassland gently like a ribbon, then passes with the wind.” —Chen Fan

Each time he sets out with a camera, Chen does some homework on the front end. He studies the natural features and cultural sites in the area. In modern cities, he rarely takes photographs, because he is seeking something different from people’s ordinary lives.

“Modern phones and apps can achieve good results—but those are just records of convenience. A true photographer has a mind to seek something out consciously. The photos should reflect emotions.”

This year, Chen plans to publish a companion album to Solar Terms on Earth. It’s woven with another thread of ancient Chinese timekeeping—this time breaking down the day rather than the year. The new book, Twelve Double-Hours, will be available soon.

This story is from Magnifissance Issue 102

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Inspired for a Beautiful Life

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