Often we look at photographs and move onto the next one like hungry ants on an unusually warm early spring Sunday picnic. Thats what I did with the eye-catching book cover of the Prix Pictet Prize 2009 with the theme Earth.
The lead image of the “Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic)” by Nadav Kander, at first glance, shows a group of youths enjoying a picnic at the banks of Yangtze River. There are two tables: bigger table with one young man with three young women facing him and one smaller table with another young man looking directly at the camera. He sits further away from the group and does not interact with the others. There is also a boat with an older man facing the camera and further boats out in the distance.
The scene is towered by cylinders forming the base of a highway. This structure can be followed all the way into the hazy distant pseudo-horizon.
The photographer describes that he used the river as a metaphor for constant change. The 6500km long river has one in eighteen of the world’s population living along its bank. Kander states that China “is a nation severing its roots, by destroying its past in the wake of the sheer force of moving forward at such an astounding and unnatural pace”.
With this background information about the series this work belongs to, I feel the essence of the photograph for me is the contrast between the body language of the two main male characters. One is accepted and engaged by his peers and the other seemingly alienated. This acts as a metaphor of people’s attitudes to a rapidly changing culture and the battle between “moving forward” and losing one’s identity and values in the process.
While I was in Paris, I’ve seen another photograph that I believed was by the same photographer. Little did I know that the photographer and the river photographed were different. Kechun Zhang’s The Yellow River featured in the Photoquai exhibition also uses contrasting scenes of beautiful nature and the harsh human influences over it to highlight the dark side of booming China.