Rising emerging Chinese artist Ronghui Chen, also a World Press Photo winner, talks about China and its urbanisation in his 3 trilogy work – Petrochemical China, Runaway World and Freezing Land. In his project Petrochemical China he looks at the country’s industrialized cities, Runaway World he points his lens at cities desperate to turn a buck through gimmicky tourist attractions. The final installment is Freezing Land, which Chen says is an examination of cities on the verge of vanishing.
The series Freezing land is about displacement and searching for belonging: in a rapidly urbanising China, how do the youth find belonging? What are the insecurities and anxieties they collectively share?
Bordering Russia and North Korea, the region, with ample natural resources, was the first to develop heavy industries in the 1960s and prospered for decades. There were 15 million immigrants to northeastern China in the Mao’s era. But since the 2000s, the northeast has become China’s most recessionary land as resources dwindled and other regions caught up. Dying industries and shortages of opportunities have been forcing people out of their home and to other parts of China in pursuit of work.
Using the social video app Kuaishou, he looked for young people who were willing to share their stories through the 8×10 large format camera. Connecting with his subjects through modern technology adds an additional layer of dystopian ambiance to the project, highlighting the modern methods that young people are using to avoid isolation in the region.
One of the most striking images in the series depicts a young boy sitting forlornly in a brightly colored room, holding a wig in his lap while staring at the ground. “The boy in this photo is 14 years old,” Chen explains. “He’s a live-streamer, or what some people call a broadcast jockey. Live-streaming is his direct source of revenue. If a fan likes him, they are sent digital rewards purchased with in-app currencies, which are bought with real money. He has lots of fans online to interact with, and he even makes money from them. But, he doesn’t have a lot of friends in real life. His life seems colorful, yet full of loneliness.”
© Ronghui Chen, from the series ‘Freeing Land’ ; Source @ Ronghui Chen