Yangtze, The Long River
The Yangtze River, which forms the premise to this body of work, is the main artery that flows 4100 miles (6500km) across China, travelling from its furthest westerly point in Qinghai Province to Shanghai in the east. The river is embedded in the consciousness of the Chinese, even for those who live thousands of miles from the river. It plays a significant role in both the spiritual and physical life of the people.
More people live along its banks than live in the United States – one in every eighteen people on the planet.
Using the river as a metaphor for constant change, I have photographed the landscape and people along its banks from mouth to source. Importantly for me, I worked intuitively, trying not to be influenced by what I already knew about the country. I wanted to respond to what I found, felt, and to seek out the iconography that allowed me to frame views that make the images unique to me.
After several trips to different parts of the river, it became clear that what I was responding to and how I felt whilst being in China was permeating into my pictures; a formalness and unease, a country that feels both at the beginning of a new era and at odds with itself. China is a nation that appears to be severing its roots by destroying its past in the wake of the sheer force of its moving ‘forward’ at such an astounding and unnatural pace: a people scarring their country and a country scarring its people.
I felt a complete outsider and explained this pictorially by ‘stepping back’ and showing humans dwarfed by their surroundings. Common man has little say in China’s progression and this smallness of the individual is alluded to in the work.
Although it was never my intention to make documentary pictures, the sociological context of this project is very important and ever present.
The displacement of three million people in a 600km stretch of the river, and the effect on humanity when a country moves towards the future at pace, are themes that will inevitably be present within the work.
A Chinese man who I became friends with whilst working on the project reiterated what many Chinese people feel: “Why do we have to destroy to develop?” He explained how in Britain many of us could revisit the place of our childhood, knowing that it will be much the same; it will remind us of our families and upbringing. In China that is virtually impossible, the scale of development has left most places unrecognisable, “Nothing is the same. We can’t revisit where we came from because it no longer exists.”
China’s landscape both economically and physically is changing daily. These are photographs that can never be taken again.