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Lanterns in Sanfeng

Terry Mclaughlin


Behind the Shot

Paper lanterns were introduced to China more than 2,000 years ago. In its most basic form, the lantern is a frame of bamboo, wood or rattan supporting a shade made from thin paper or silk. Inside, an open flame, protected from the wind, illuminates the globe, providing soft, even light. Lanterns are often decorated with calligraphy and other painted graphics and images.

Aside from the practical and decorative uses, paper lanterns have remained an important symbol of Buddhism since Emperor Mingdi of the Eastern Han Dynasty established the first Lantern Festival two centuries ago. Stories of the original inspiration vary, but the emperor ordered that all of his subjects should display lighted lanterns on the 15th day of the first lunar month of the year to represent the wisdom of Buddha. To curry favor with the emperor, local magistrates created more and more elaborate lantern displays. Over time, long, dense strings of red-painted lanterns were hung during festivals, particularly the New Year, the Mid-Autumn Festival, and of course, the Lantern Festival.

Terry visited the 300-year-old Sanfeng Temple in Taiwan and was taken by the beauty of the lanterns there. “I love travel photography and I particularly love shooting in Taiwan. So much to see, lots to explore and lots to photograph. On this trip we took a train tour and shot a bunch of temples. We were visiting some of the most amazing temples. There was an engagement going on here when I shot this.”

Terry makes a point of fostering relationships with photographers in the countries he visits. “No matter where I’ve gone, I’ve made friends with people in different countries. When I visit, we get to see different places that visitors wouldn’t normally see. There are some incredible photographers in Taiwan. They have a totally unique style.”