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After looking at Nadav Kander’s work in my previous post, I started wondering what Chinese photographers with similar approaches to landscape were doing. As it happens, a recent post on A Photo Student (a most interesting blog on the MFA journey of James Pomerantz at the School of Visual Art in New York) brought to my attention the work of Bo Wang (also in the SVA program) and his Heteroscapes series. Wang’s exhibition opens tomorrow at Gallery 456 in New York (alas, an ocean away for me). I’m not supposing a Chinese photographer will have a more authentic or accurate view of the Chinese landscape, it’s just that it’s a good and well-rounded thing to see what those who have a connection to a landscape by birth might be interested in looking at too.

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[image: © Bo Wang, 2009, from Heteroscapes series]

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Wang directs his camera to long views of the landscape but he also shows us the signs of a complicated and busy community too. This image above of what looks like a market suggests a few things: a scene early in the morning and, with the sheer profusion of Pepsi-signed marquees, an area that is likely soon to be full of people and noise and commerce. The new-looking and makeshift setup dominates its location, a terrace that by its architecture and lichen-covered surfaces appears much older.

[update: Bo Wang tells me in an email that this location is “an old town with a long history by the Jialing river”. The area is where a lot of mostly older folks like to congregate to drink tea and play chess.]

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[image: © Bo Wang, 2009, from Heteroscapes series]

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Here’s a more stark image contrasting the old and the new. This time it’s the old that looks impermanent and the new that’s likely to last a few decades more. The two structures dominate the frame, but the wooden one appears more fragile. Not just because it’s the more rickety structure; in this picture it’s exposed to the sun and by implication to the elements, and it’s surrounded by rough foliage in a way that implies neglect. It looks trapped, static, decaying, while the concrete overpass is clean and new. Yes, the overpass is probably exposed to the sun on the other side, but in this picture, it is the structure that offers shade and protection. More than that though, it runs out of the frame, a long solid line that goes, well, into the future. The only human figure in the frame is a woman with a pink umbrella standing on an oddly-placed platform that connects the two different spaces (it’s curious that in this case the new structure adapts to the height of the old one). Is she waiting for someone? Taking a breather before the next part of her journey perhaps. In transition, certainly.

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[image: © Bo Wang, 2009, from Heteroscapes series]

And here, another overpass, this time providing the defacto ceiling to a canteen or food court. Some of the people in the frame are blurred, a condition necessitated probably by the slow shutter speeds and small apertures I’m guessing Wang employs to get his deep focus, but their blurriness is suggestive of the wider state of transition they are in, the wider state of transition that China itself is in. This space looks a peculiar combination of permanent (with the wooden railings on the periphery) and temporary (with those rough underpass beams forming the ceiling). It looks as if you’d need to be careful not to bang your head on the way out, towards the left.

[update: Bo also mentions that this functions as a meeting-place for divorced or middle-aged singles. It’s underneath a highway, and the board in the middle is full of personals ads.]

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[image: © Bo Wang, 2009, from Heteroscapes series]

He has a few architectural images where the shot is not of a jumble of old and new, with either decaying old buildings protesting their tenous existence against fresh new concrete pillars, or where bright and shiny new structures insinuate themselves into the spaces in between older ones. These ostensibly less-complicated images are invariably of completely modern views. Who knows what older histories lie underneath the pristine new streets of this picture?

I’m not sure where these pictures are taken, but Wang in the project statement on his website (well worth a look to see the whole portfolio) suggests that many them are in Chongqing, a city likely to see an increase in its population from relocations because of the Three Gorges dam project. Perhaps the buildings of the last picture are apartments to house them. Wang calls China a “battlefield of transition”. The old, the ancient even, scraping up against the new. The makeshift becomes permanent, and it’s unclear how enduring the permanent is anyway.