Between the mountains and water
When it comes to China, the most familiar picture to me is one of gigantic high-rise buildings growing up into the sky. People vanish in this picture, because the cities they live in are no longer human scale. But of course there are many other pictures deserving of a closer look: the photographs of outstanding photographer Zhang Kechun for example. His work does not lay focus on the relationship between the people and their cities, but rather the one between the people and their land. His photographs dwell on the significance of landscape to modern Chinese national identity. The series we have chosen, “Between the mountains and water”, shows a lesser known face of modern China.
As I assumed, you can see the city grow, but in the background. It is inconclusive whether the city is hard to reach for the people depicted or whether it is held at a distance on purpose. The only sure thing is that there seems to be an invisible border to keep both worlds separated from one another. The setting is steeped in dense fog, as if the pictures tried to capture a specific state of uncertainty.
Surprisingly, the pictures nonetheless radiate a very special feeling of serenity and peace. One phenomenon still reappears however, as man seems to be a little off scale – he vanishes against ancient mountains and the expanse of water. The people we see in the images don’t seem bothered; most of them look absentmindedly into the distance. Again you can not tell what they are looking for; perhaps a future yet to come or a past just about to disappear. Some show excitement, and I am tempted to believe it could be about the sight of their beautiful geographical heritage.
The cover image shows a work from his series “yellow river”.