We visited the Great Wall of China in the spring of 2010.
The Wall has magnificent sweeps that have been beautifully restored, and project strong to the max. Those are the parts you see as background for visiting swells.
What astonished me when I saw the actual thing was not hugeness or grandeur, but the intimate and improvisatory nature of it. Long stretches are built along ridgetops, and follow as they wander.
Many of the steeper stretches are not walkways but staircases.
Above is a view of some miles along the wall. The side facing Mongolia is crenelated, while the Chinese side has a plain battlement with ground-level gates and stairs every little way for reinforcements to hurry in.
And then we have a forward operating base in present-day Afghanistan. Warfare has changed in many ways, but sometimes there seems to be nothing new under the sun.
I draw a broad distinction between self-portraits intended to function as monuments, as statements about who the artist is, by golly, and those which are more in the nature of self-exploration. It’s the difference between a declaration and an inquiry. The first category can be more productive of laughs—
but the second is more fascinating. I’ve done very few self-portraits, I suppose because I always find the subject too profound and elusive for decisive formulation.