The large format series City’s Edge explores the strange and nebulous region where urban and rural China meet. This landscape is emblematic of China as a whole: unresolved, abrasive, contradictory. Here, the wealthiest Chinese live in ‘Mc Mansions’ - cookie-cutter villas beside migrant workers who can only afford to erect shanties on temporarily vacant land. We see manicured lawns and golf courses extravagantly watered next to parched farmland and polluted dumping grounds.
There is a stage-set quality to the built environment. The architecture seems two-dimensional, garish and impermanent. There are plastic palm trees, Greco-Roman columns, billboards showing American football players, advertisements for dazzling new apartment complexes, bunkers left from WWII and ancient tombs. The people with their gestures seem theatrical, as if eager to appear in step with these new backdrops. Others seem absorbed in their thoughts, lonely, stunned by this new world that has suddenly appeared.
In photographing this phenomena, I ask certain questions: what will develop from this mix of cultural traditions and symbols? Will something distinct and authentic emerge? I search for awkward moments and juxtapositions, scenes in which elements coalesce to offer a glimpse of something new and undefined. Photographing this environment becomes a way of gazing back into history as well as a method of decoding the future, with its possibilities and dangers.
In a sense, this vast and expanding precinct has become the new heartland of China as it is here that industries fueling China’s economic boom reside. This border region is also home to what has been called one of the “great land grabs in history,” as it is here too that fields previously farmed by peasants are appropriated by low-level government officials and sold to developers at tremendous profit. The peasants often are left without reasonable compensation, means of livelihood or legal recourse. Protests and riots occur daily throughout China in response to this repurposing of the land.
As China intends to transform itself from a rural to predominantly urban nation within the next several decades, building 400 new cities from scratch in process, understanding this border region becomes particularly critical. Here we see the processes, conflicts and pitfalls involved in this metamorphosis. China’s urbanization is also a microcosm of global trends as the ratio of city dwellers worldwide is expected to overtake that of rural inhabitants.