Chinese city

Chinese city presents photographs taken at night in the city of Chengdu, between 2009 & 2011, then in later years in other cities across China.

Wandering into that other side of Chengdu is like diving night after night into an ocean of diffuse subaquatic light that shifts the urban landscape into different compositions. The homogeneity of colour tones, the succession of avenues and lanes, the emptiness and scale of the landscape that only reveals hints of human presence, turn these night hikes into an exploration of abyssal canyons. Buildings are masses that loom over and fade into the air, into the lesser reality of the background. Places and scenes take all their importance, revealing an essence devoid of all the context and interpretations given by daylight colours and activities.

Empty, brightly lit large open spaces are unusual. They instill at the edge of consciousness an underlying feeling of apprehension. I pass through this disproportional yet bright world, my walk alternated with hideaways brought by side alleys and the periphery of lighting. On the other hand, the constancy of the hazy and almost monochromatic landscape, from place to place and night to night, is captivating. Whilst the stillness of scenes and the muffling of sounds create a shelter for solitude, the bright lights blazing on the brutally empty avenues hypnotize the mind. Focused, what I eventually photograph becomes fantastic landscapes, not unlike fairy tales scenery.

Through the city of Chengdu, this project is also a research on the visual identity a city can have after a century or more of troubles and development that has caused much destruction of its visual elements. Metropolis of developing countries are often seen as (re)built in the same manner, as opposed to, for instance, European cities, that are so loaded with identity symbols. Having crossed several so-called new cities in Asia, I focused my research on Chengdu where I have spent several years. On another level, a part of myself is seeking for scenes answering to the idea of the « imperial China » that belongs to the Western imaginary, a vague yet fascinating image nurtured by explorers and orientalists. How could urban nocturnal scenes echo something of the ancient cities of the Middle Kingdom? These different influences brought together during the night walks contribute to the emergence of images at the crossroads of a visual reality with the projection of the photographer’s own fictions.

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Exhibition views — Festival of European Photography (Busto Arsizio, 2016) and Mois de la Photo (Grenoble, 2017)
Chinese City | 2015 | Projects