Tag Archives: Entire City

City on Fire: A Look Inside Changsha in China

Rather than see the city of Changsha fall into Japanese hands during World War II, Chinese Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek decided to burn the entire city to the ground in 1938. Out of the destruction, Changsha, now a metropolis of six million, has risen from the ashes.

Photographer Rian Dundon spent the last six years creating a gritty black-and-white exploration of people living and making their way in Changsha, as well as Hunan, in a geometrically evolving civilization. A dizzying place, where “bit-players in the unfolding epic of China’s development” deal with forces beyond their control, he says.

Dundon describes Changsha as “Blade Runner meets Brooklyn: a sprawling warren of ad-hoc concrete, grand boulevards and neon dreams laced with an energy that made me dizzy.” After six years living and working in China, the photographer has begun composing a book dummy and is selling advance copies via emphas.is to help fund its publication.

The photographer originally moved to China thinking it was only a yearlong commitment, tagging along with his then-girlfriend who had landed a position teaching English for Princeton University. Living in China subverted Dundon’s imagination, and he found himself surprised by the disparity between what he had envisioned and what he actually found. “I had expected something more exotic, more foreign,” he says. “My notions of China were of a place removed from the rest of the world.”

Dundon began to learn Mandarin in the city’s pool halls, counting balls in Chinese, and practicing his language skills with local billiards sharks and spectators. He befriended a liquor salesman and a bar owner who introduced him to a grittier side of the city’s nightlife. By day, he explored Changsha, soaking in the rhythm and the texture of the place. “I did my best to absorb everything, every bit of local language or news or culinary offering. And I photographed, always photographed. Only now I wasn’t just a visitor or a journalist,” he says. “Without a story to cover or a deadline to meet, I consigned myself to the sensuality of living, engaging with the people I met and staying open to different modes of experience,” Dundon wrote in his project outline.

“After one year I knew I had only scratched the surface. There were so many layers to dig through. And there’s no way to rush this kind of thing,” Dundon says. Despite the fact that his girlfriend left after a year, Dundon ended up staying in China for six.

Rather than take a traditional journalistic approach, Dundon photographed in a more experiential way. In his work, Dundon found himself “trying to maintain a continuous sense of personal narrative in my work—a unifying perspective. In China I was more interested in atmosphere and attitude than a strictly defined subject or story,” Dundon says. “And I had to accept the fact that I knew nothing. That only by staying open to different tracks of experience would I be able to produce something honest. I needed to give up control. Allow myself to be led.”

In Changsha, Dundon befriended a crew of funeral planners, cemetery consultants and speculators. “The death business is booming in China. Most of them were young kids fresh out of college who kept a canny sense of humor despite the somber surroundings,” he says. Despite the growth opportunities in the industry, these ambitious youths were stuck in an odd interstitial area, between the cultures of both ancient and modern China. The power and presence of sprits and ghosts is still respected by many Chinese, and for this group, that meant keeping their work secret—save for a small cadre of family members and friends. “Most people don’t want to get close to someone who spends their days with the dead. And that shared experience of exclusion was the glue that bound their tightly knit group together.”

Dundon took a trip home to rural Liling County with one of his Changsha confederates. “He told me that nobody in his village could know what he really did for a living.” Dundon says. Despite his success in the city, “he was still forced to lie about his job when he went home for holidays. After tasting city life he said he could never move home again.”

Rian Dundon is an American photographer. See more of his work here.

Photographer #440: Claire Martin

Claire Martin, 1980, Australia, is a documentary photographer with a focus on marginalised communities. In 2007 and 2008 she concentrated on Vancouver’s Downtown East Side. Even though Vancouver is a city that was twice voted “the worlds most liveable”, the residents of this part live below the poverty line. The suburb has an estimated AIDS rate of 30% and the leading cause of death is overdose. In 2009 she visited Slab City where she focused on the permanent residents of this community in the Colorado desert. It “is a place for the broken and desperate and for the fierce defenders of freedom from tyranny.” In 2010 and 2011 she went to Haiti to document the aftermath of the earthquake. “Every spare piece of land has turned into a tent city and whole suburbs and major infrastructure lay demolished, essentially turning and entire city into a slum.” Claire has exhibited her work in solo shows in Australia and has been in various group exhibitions around the world. In 2010 she won the Magnum Foundation Inge Morath award for female photographers under the age of 30. She is a member of the prestigious Australian photo collective Oculi. The following images come from the series Petionville – Life in Haiti’s Tent Cities, Slab City and Downtown East Side.


Website: www.clairemartinphotography.com

Displaced: The Cambodian Diaspora

As a son of the Killing Fields born in 1982 in the refugee camp to which my family had fled following the Cambodian genocide, I have struggled for most of my life to understand the legacy of my people. Over the last year, I engaged in a series of conversations with Cambodian-Americans about our history and the complexity of their experience while photographing community members in Philadelphia, Pa.; Lowell, Mass. and the Bronx, N.Y.

The Cambodian people are among the most heavily traumatized people in modern memory. They are the human aftermath of a cultural, political, and economic revolution by the Khmer Rouge that killed an estimated two million, nearly a third of the entire population, within a span of four years from 1975-1979. The entire backbone of society—educated professionals, artists, musicians and monks—were systematically executed in a brutal attempt to transform the entirety of Cambodian society to a classless rural collective of peasants. That tragedy casts a long shadow on the lives of Cambodians. It bleeds generationally, manifesting itself subtly within my own family in ways that I am only starting to fully comprehend as an adult. It is ingrained in the sorrow of my grandmother’s eyes; it is sown in the furrows of my parents’ faces. This is my inheritance; this is what it means to be Cambodian.

After surviving the Killing Fields, my family, along with hundreds of thousands of survivors, risked their lives trekking through the Khmer-Rouge-controlled jungle to reach a refugee camp in Thailand. There, my mother had what she believes to be a prophetic dream. In a field, an entire city’s worth of women were clawing with their bare hands in bloodstained dirt searching for an elusive diamond. To the disbelief of everyone in the dream, she serendipitously stumbled upon it wrapped in a blanket of dirt. The following day she discovered she was pregnant with me. The significance of this didn’t dawn on me until I started photographing this project. It was a vision of hope and renewal, that we as Cambodians are endowed with an incredible resilience and strength in human spirit. I have seen this in the faces of Cambodians I have photographed and have been incredibly humbled. In the words of my mother, it is a miracle to simply exist.

As a result of the unique demographic circumstances of the genocide, there has been a paucity of reflection within the Cambodian community. Many second-generation Cambodians I have interviewed learned about the Killing Fields through secondary sources, from the Internet and documentary films. Such conversations were non-existent at home. Exacerbating the silence is an inter-generational language barrier; most young Cambodian Americans cannot speak Khmer, the Cambodian language, while their parents and grandparents are incapable of speaking English. As a result, we are the literal manifestation of Pol Pot’s attempt to erase Cambodia’s history and culture. However, in spite of this void, there exists a growing movement of young and empowered Cambodians—academics, artists, musicians, and activists—who are trying to bridge this generational chasm.

For months, the senior surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge have been tried for crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide in Cambodia by a United-Nations-backed international tribunal that was established in 2006. Over half a decade later, and at a cost of an estimated $200 million, the court has prosecuted only one individual, Kaing Guek Eav, known as Duch, who presided over the execution of more than 16,000 in Cambodia’s most infamous prison. On Feb. 3, the tribunal extended his sentencing to life in prison. In spite of this ruling, the court is on the verge of collapse because of corruption and a lack of political will by the government to proceed beyond the trials of only the highest ranking surviving leaders of the Khmer Rouge. This is heartbreaking. I asked my mother how she felt about this: she responded, almost tearfully, that this in and of itself could never take back her suffering. Many Cambodians I have spoken with in the course of photographing this project have echoed this sentiment. But I am convinced that justice and healing must emerge from the collective will of my people.

Pete Pin is a Cambodian-American documentary photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y. He was a Fellow at the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund, which supported the Bronx portion of his long-term project on the Cambodian diaspora. More of his work can be seen here.