These series are the first parts of a documentary project I started in 2009: “China – other cities”. My objective is to depict China, 60 years after the creation of the modern China, and at a time this country is ravenously taking its place in the international game, by showing ordinary cities, less covered, showed or even known in western countries than Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou, all over- bombarded on our screens, before or after the Olympics and the Universal exhibition.
Ialready visited Zhengzhou, Shenynag and Wuhan. I will continue this project later this year, maybe going to Wenzhou, and plan to complete it in 2013 by visiting second-tier cities.
To define my approach I would say first: documentary photography : nothing spectacular, street life sometimes, environment ordinary people live and work in. The selection of cities is based on two criteria: first to be real poles of life and of activities, big and representative enough,; second and most important, to be as neutral as possible from a visual standpoint: no landmark, no touristic spots, no big industries, no modern and aggressive financial districts, nothing that can attract or disturb eyes, memories or feelings.
Zhengzhou is the capital city of the Henan province, and Shenyang of the Liaoning one. When I met Chinese photographer Hu Li in Zhengzhou for the first time (by the way, look at his superb work on Beaugeste gallery Shanghai‘s site ) having a welcome drink in my hotel room, he nodded and looked at me, dubious, asking why I was coming there since “there is nothing to see here”. I have to say that I was a bit afraid, but somewhere I knew I was exactly where I wanted to be.
I have never been fascinated by portraits, not that I deny any quality or any interest in some of the main contributions to the history of Photography, but surprisingly, they don't (or rarely) mean a lot to me, nor educate me enough about the people standing in front of the camera. Sure, I could mention..well..and many, many others. However, I would continue to believe that showing where people live, work or develop their activities can teach us as much about the inhabitants as showing them. How can we human folks build so many improbable and ugly spaces or buildings, highways, bridges, pipelines, factories, train stations and railroads; how can we explain that these places, which were originally conceived with a certain rationality, order or plan, even architecture, frequently, not to say always, seem ultimately to run their own life, growth, autonomy, decay or agony, in an apparent total independence and abandon from their designers or users, sometimes in a total anarchy or in a pure chaotic mode? Time and Progress do not explain everything. There must be something wrong with the designers or with the users...
I feel comfortable walking along these places, like visiting old mates, looking at rushing and roaring trucks that move around and run between noisy and exhausted cities, staring at busy people. I am also interested in visual emptiness, an empty crossroad for instance, just a place for people or cars to transit between two short moments of a nonsense life, and in visual banality, like in some suburban areas. Trying to capture some essence from nothing...Maybe am I simply documenting absurdity.
Of course I like people as well, I am not entirely misanthropist, and I am curious. This is why I am spending so much time in China, trying to understand what does this country and its people look like, how is it moving forward; If I had a last word to explain what I like in doing photography, I would say: walking during hours on a broad and clean avenue, with nothing really surprising popping up at the eyes; then, suddenly, decide to take this narrow lane on the right hand; discover a dirty but lively back street; shoot; know.
Turn right and take the narrow lane. That could be a pretty good definition indeed...
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