Ian Teh: Storslagna foton av den kinesiska utvecklingens avtryck i naturen

 Coal, Ash and Snow. Wuhai, Inner Mongolia, China.   

Coal, Ash and Snow. Wuhai, Inner Mongolia, China. 2008 All photos © Ian Teh

 Luxury Residential Apartments. Linfen, Shanxi, China.

Luxury Residential Apartments. Linfen, Shanxi, China. 2008

 Steel Plant. Hancheng, Shanxi, China.

Steel Plant. Hancheng, Shanxi, China.

 Kuye River. Yulin, Shaanxi, China.

Kuye River. Yulin, Shaanxi, China.

 Quarry. Shizuishan, Inner Mongolia, China.   

Quarry. Shizuishan, Inner Mongolia, China.

”The farther Teh has ascended into the hills, the more fundamental his critique has become, even as his images have grown deceptively more serene.”
– Evan Osnos

Den brittisk-malaysiske fotografen Ian Teh har jobbat länge i Kina och han har gestaltat det ekonomiska undret som vi är vana att se det. Dynamiken och neonljusen i Kinas storstäder, myllret av bilar och människor. Han kom till Kina 1995 och en av hans äldre släktingar, som han aldrig träffat, var från Kina. Teh blev fascinerad av den högt uppskruvade förändringstakten, det kinesiska folkets påtagliga lust att lära, utvecklas och förnya sig.

Men så riktade Teh sitt intresse mot Kinas inland och där fann han rader av andra exempel på vad utvecklingen kostar – makalös miljöförstöring av mark och floder, storstäder som tillhör de mest förorenade i världen. Tehs foton från Kinas inland var nästan unika, och dem ovan är tagna mellan 2006 och 2010. De ingår i den hyllade serien Traces I.

  Workers return home after a days work at a nearby coal power station and steel plant. Behind in the distance is a new cooling tower that has just been erected, the station is increasing its capacity. Tonghua, China.

Arbetare på hemväg efter pass i kolkraft- och stålverk.
Ur serien Dark Clouds. Tonghua, Jilin Province, China. 2006

Redan i Dark Clouds skildrade Teh den kinesiska kol- och stålindustrin, men då skildrade han den inifrån. Med Traces I försköts intresset mot det inre av Kina – fotona föreställer stålverk, cementfabriker, kolgruvor och de avtryck de lämnar efter sig i mark och vatten, inte minst floder. Naturen är hotad. Klimatet är hotat.

I Traces ser man knappt några människor på fotona, men de har en nästan paradoxal egenskap. Även fotona i Traces II: The Source och Traces II: The Middle, som Teh påbörjade 2011 och som har ett särskilt fokus på Gula floden, har något storslaget och nästan episkt över sig, några av dem har drag av abstrakt konst, blandningen av skönhet och förstörelse ger dem ett sublimt drag.

Men Teh är väldigt noggrann med att sätta in fotona i sina sammanhang. På sin hemsida uppger han inte bara var de är tagna, han förklarar också hur ingreppen i landskapet och naturen kommit till. Han fortsätter att berätta om miljöförstörelsen i intervjuer, artiklar och böcker.

Nedan följer ett litet urval foton ur Traces II som har undertiteln Landscapes in Transition on the Yellow River Basin. Man kan säga att den här delen av serien breddar berättelsen. Den skildrar urbaniseringen och industrialiseringen av Kinas inland, sätter fokus på ämnen som vattenbrist och föroreningar av vatten och luft.

  Abandoned 5 Star Hotel Construction.  Guide, Qinghai, China. 2014   One of the benefits of creating the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, according to China’s State Council, would be “ecological protection and construction” on the plateau. Development in the protected ecosystem of the Reserve, however, soon extended beyond tourism, to the mining of gold and other minerals, road construction, and real estate development. Meanwhile some of the tourism-related projects were lost to changing political winds: according to a local security guard, construction on this 5-star hotel came to a halt when developers couldn’t secure the necessary permits after a turnover in local government personnel. While much new construction in the area has reached completion, scientists have raised concerns that large towns and cities, and the infrastructure that connects them create higher densities of humans that will inevitably increase the stress on the local ecology.

Abandoned 5 Star Hotel Construction. Guide, Qinghai, China. 2014

  Road Construction.  Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai, China. 2014  In 2000, the Chinese government recognized that an environmental crisis was underway and created the Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, stretching for more than 140 square miles over China’s Tibetan plateau. Over the past decades, as China’s cities and economy have grown rapidly, this region has been increasingly explored for resource extraction. A single mine, the Muli mine, contains 3.5 billion tons of coal, or 87 percent of the province's reserves. The infrastructure necessary to move supplies and resources has further altered the landscape as road construction projects cut through the plateau, and open mining pits abut protected wilderness areas. Environmental groups say that these projects harm the wildlife and delicate ecosystem the reserve was created to protect.

Road Construction. Sanjiangyuan National Nature Reserve, Golog Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, Qinghai, China. 2014

  Farmland.  Guide, Qinghai, China. 2014  In the 1970s the communal system of open pastoral grazing that had existed for centuries on the Tibetan plateau began to change. Grasslands began to deteriorate. Around the same time, economic reforms led to the privatization of formerly communal lands. Fencing altered the grazing patterns herders had used to move their livestock over the fragile landscape. Confined to smaller areas, the animals overgrazed, further damaging the grasslands.       The grasslands face a variety of threats, according to a study published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in 2006. They include a drier climate, population growth among both humans, and pika,  burrowing mammals related to the rabbit whose predators have been over-hunted, livestock concentration near winter settlements, reduced mobility for herders due to restrictive land tenure, and lack of government investment in rangeland and livestock marketing. The study’s authors note that all but the first of these factors, are related to government policy.

Farmland. Guide, Qinghai, China. 2014

 Cityscape. Lanzhou, Gansu, China, 2011.  The expansive cityscape of Lanzhou cloaked in a polluted haze. Since 1949, the city, once a former Silk Road trading post, has morphed from the capital of a poverty-stricken province into the heart of a major industrial area. It is the center of the country’s petrochemical industry and is a key regional transport hub between eastern and western China. Among the country’s 660 cities, more than 400 lack sufficient water, while over 100 suffer from severe shortages. Lanzhou is the largest and first city on the Yellow River but is often better known for its massive discharge of industrial and human waste. According to recent reports by the Chinese government and international NGOs like the Blacksmith Institute, Lanzhou is China’s most polluted city and one of the 30 most polluted cities in the world.

Cityscape. Lanzhou, Gansu, China, 2011.

 Banks of the Yellow River. Hejin, Shanxi, China, 2011.  A couple sits by the banks of the only remaining undeveloped section of the Yellow River on the outskirts of the small city of Hejin. Although China has roughly the same amount of water as the United States, its population is nearly five times greater, making water a precious and increasingly sought-after resource. The heavily industrialized area around Hejin contains some of the most polluted waters in the river. In 2007, after surveying the river, the Yellow River Conservancy Commission stated that one third of the river system had pollution levels that made the water unfit for drinking, aquaculture, industrial use, or even agriculture. 

Banks of the Yellow River. Hejin, Shanxi, China, 2011.

 Quarry and temple. Bayin, Gansu, China, 2011.  A private temple set above a quarry. Quarries producing limestone, used for construction and as flux for the process of steel making, are among a number of common features found in industrial towns. Mining industries set up near mountains that provide coal and other valuable mineral deposits. Coal-fired power stations are located in the same area and steel plants that need energy also locate near the power stations. Coking plants are located nearby to convert coal into coke, which is also necessary for steel production. 

Quarry and temple. Bayin, Gansu, China, 2011.

 Landfill construction. Hejin, Shanxi, China, 2011.  Workers unroll sheets of plastic to line the inside of a new landfill. This cavity was once farmland and continues to be surrounded by agricultural land.  Just over a generation ago, refuse was rarely a problem because families, then largely poor and rural, used and reused everything. A supermarket was uncommon and as a result so was plastic packaging. As cities have grown, urban support systems that provide public services such as landfills and waste treatment plants have been unable to keep up with the growing demand for the processing and disposing of waste.  China has recently surpassed the United States as the world’s largest producer of municipal solid waste. Most landfills are poorly managed and have only thin linings of plastic or fiberglass. These sites leach heavy metals, ammonia, and bacteria into the groundwater and soil, and the decomposing waste sends out methane and carbon dioxide. A farming society for thousands of years, most of China will be urban by 2017. No country has ever experienced such a large and rapid increase in its generation of waste; the implications both domestically and internationally are enormous. 

Landfill construction. Hejin, Shanxi, China, 2011.

 Yellow River. Sanmenxia, Henan, China, 2011.  The Yellow River viewed from the top of the controversial Sanmenxia Dam. Heralded as a great engineering feat, the dam was built in 1960 to tame the river. Its image was subsequently printed on the country’s bank notes. Yet within four years of opening, the dam had lost 40 percent of its water storage capacity because of silt, and its turbines were clogged. Despite renovations, the dam currently has less than 10 percent of its original storage capacity and generates only about 25 megawatts, compared to the expected 1,160. The dam has failed to prevent severe flooding upstream and still prompts much controversy, including government arrests of the project’s most outspoken critics. 

Yellow River. Sanmenxia, Henan, China, 2011.

Ett varmt tack till Ian Teh för att vi fick publicera det här urvalet foton. Serien Traces har fått ett stort och välförtjänt genomslag världen över. Vi rekommenderar verkligen ett besök på Ian Tehs hemsida – hans nytagna serie från Indonesien, The Way of Rice, är sagolikt vacker. Det finns också en hel del att läsa om Traces.

Evan Osnos, vars bok om Kina vi recenserade tidigare i år, har skrivit en hel del om Teh och hans unika foton. Följande artikel i New Yorker är ganska kort men mycket välskriven: ”Ian Teh’s Changed Chinese Landscapes”

Men frågan är om han inte skriver allra bäst själv om sina foton. I Granta skriver han om Traces II:

”By depicting these landscapes as predominantly beautiful, almost dreamlike, I seek resonance with some of the romantic notions about this once great river. The search is for a gentle beauty, but also for muted signs of a landscape in the throes of transition. I am interested in the dissonance created between the ambivalent images and the historical, economic and scientific narrative that accompanies them.”

Ola Wihlke

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