I believe it was God’s will that we should come back, so that men might know the things that are in the world, since, as we have said in the first chapter of this book, no other man, Christian or Saracen, Mongol or pagan, has explored so much of the world as Messer Marco, son of Messer Niccolo Polo, great and noble citizen of the city of Venice.- Marco Polo
Using Marco Polo’s 1299 text “The Description of the World” as his guidebook, world renowned photographer Michael Yamashita spent two years traveling in Polo’s footsteps. He traversed more than 6,000 miles, often via horse or camel, through Iran, Iraq, pre-9/11 war-ravaged Afghanistan on into China- Pamirs, Xanadu, Sichuan, Yunnan, Tibet, Sumatra, Indonesia, then returning back to Italy by way of Vietnam, Sri Lanka and India.
Encountering many of the same sights that Marco Polo wrote about in the 13th century, Yamashita shot over 10,000 frames, capturing such wonders as the remains of Xanadu, the “singing sand dunes” of Dunhuang and the huge reclining Buddha in Zhangye.
The photographs were first published in an 80-page, three-part series (May, June and July 2001) in “National Geographic” magazine (PartI, Part II, Part III, unfortunately the full feature is not online). The photographic essays were the magazine’s most popular of 2001 and were tapped by White Star Publishers for a sumptuous full-color book, “Marco Polo, A Photographer’s Journey.” You can see some images of the book here.
In the book Yamashita shares his own personal odyssey along with 258 photographs that illustrate Marco Polo’s specific quotes directly from “The Description of the World.” Marco Polo: A Photographer’s Journey, has sold approximately 240,000 copies in 12 languages thus far.
I think it took off because Marco Polo is a household name, and I traveled through a lot of territory. It was good timing because I was one of the last photographers to be in Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan prior to 9/11.- Michael Yamashita