All posts tagged: Photography

On Qurbanjan Semet’s Photobook “I am from Xinjiang on the Silk Road”

Initially many Uyghurs were excited about the Uyghur photographer Qurbanjan Semet’s book-length photo essay I am from Xinjiang on the Silk Road. At first they were thrilled to see Qurbanjan’s national primetime interview on CCTV News. They were astonished to see it be translated into English (by Wang Chiying) and sold alongside Xi Jinping’s boilerplate biography at Book Expo America. They wanted to know why people as famous and distant as the movie star Jackie Chan and novelist-turned-harmony-spokesperson Wang Meng were singing its praises. But when they actually had a chance to look at it they were often disappointed. The book (which was produced largely for Chinese and English-reading audiences) is presented as the portraits and stories of human life in and from Xinjiang. Yet, although the majority of the over 100 people portrayed in the book are Uyghur, only a small handful of them are uneducated people from the countryside. So while many Uyghurs agree that the message the book carries – that Uyghurs in general are not “Separatists, Extremists, and Terrorists” – is …

Xinjiang Thoughts on Carolyn Drake’s new book Wild Pigeon

Many fantastic reviews have been written about Carolyn Drake’s new book of Xinjiang photography Wild Pigeon. Ian Johnson from the New York Review of Books commented on her innovative use of participatory sketching and collage. Photobook Bristol asked Drake how her participatory approach shaped her editorial process. Sean O’Hagan at The Guardian focused on Drake’s attempts to capture a vanishing culture on film. Colin Pantallat in Photo-eye congratulated Drake on “destroying” her images and in doing so destroying the solipsism that so often accompanies a heroic photographer. Rebecca Horne’s magnificent review at Daylight engages with Drake’s struggle to understand what her images might mean to Uyghurs. And the Time Lightbox review features lengthy image captions in which Drake relates the things Uyghurs told her as they looked at the images and realigned them with pencil and scissor. Numerous photography review journals selected it as one of the best books of 2014. Harper’s Magazine featured it as a portfolio in their January 2015 issue. But how have Xinjiang photographers and critics received the book? When I viewed and talked about the book with groups of Han photographers many of …

Ali K.’s “Burial Ground” Photo Series

Last weekend I went to Gulsay Cemetery at the south end of Ürümchi, back behind the power plants right next to lowest foothill of the eastern section of Heavenly Mountains. Many Uyghur, Kazakh and Hui heroes are buried in this cemetery; people often just refer to it as “the Muslim cemetery.” Looking at the markings around you, it feels as though you are in a completely Muslim world. In the Uyghur section of the cemetery all of the signs are in the Arabic script of modern Uyghur. There is little sign in this community of the dead that this cemetery is in the largest Chinese city in Central Asia. But if you look a few hundred meters away you immediately recognize that the city is now even here: the last stop on 308 bus line. Giant earth moving machines prowl the nearby city landfill; sunlight reflects off of the CITIC tower at Little West Gate. But even though the city has come to the cemetery the people here still seem at rest in the earth. …

Chen Zhifeng, Xinjiang Billionaire, Patron of the Arts

Untitled #1 Chen Zhifeng is a “self-made” billionaire, founder of the Western Regions Photography Society, and a major force in Xinjiang’s art scene. He is part of a newly minted cohort of Xinjiang capitalists: the Xinjiang 8 (or 9) nouveau riche, who have taken advantage of Chinese-Central Asian market development and the post-Reform oil and gas economy. His Wild Horses Corporation brings in an annual income of $700 million selling Chinese-made women’s underwear and TVs in Russia and Kazakhstan. Yet, unlike some other Xinjiang elites, Chen has reinvested his wealth in Xinjiang. As a trained artist himself, he is renowned for his support of a multiethnic crew of young Xinjiang artists. With his prominently displayed black Hummer standing sentinel in front of his Wild Horse Hotel compound on Kunming Road just down the street from the Kazakhstan Visa Office/Embassy, Chen has become a Xinjianger’s Xinjianger. Although he was born in Hubei and came to Xinjiang as the result of a military assignment in 1981, Chen has taken on the cultural genealogy of Xinjiang history with a fierce amount bravado and …