on 12 October 2007
This is a superb collection of photographs, tracking the fast pace of economic and social change in China over the past 15 years.
The smart shiny tower blocks, vast building sites and big brand advertising hoardings remind us that as China liberalises its economy, western companies are moving in to "leverage" this new market place. "You are Centre" says the first image in the book, implying that while the old communist order may be dying (yet still far from politically dead), the uncompromising capitalism that is waiting to replace it is far from benign and just as eager to control the Chinese thought process. While the political creed may be changing from communism to consumer capitalism, for many Chinese, little has changed for the better. Henley reminds us that for those on the fringes of China's development boom, life remains uncompromisingly hard. People are flocking to the cities to find work, living in tents on the edge of the city, now slaves to a different ideology and a different dream.
What is also exciting about the work is that Henley does not dish up another helping of the familiar, picture post card images of China (Great Wall, Kung Fu, Acrobats etc) and deals with the modern reality of a country finding its feet after years in a cultural and international vacuum. I'm struck by the excitement and energy in the images, the relentless pace of change. The pictures of this new China are keenly observed, often ironic and witty while never loosing site of the scale of change and its impact on the Chinese people.
Great stuff and a "must-have" for anyone trying to understand modern China.
on 30 January 2008
Henley clearly got his boots dirty while producing this magnificent photo essay on changing China. His journey into the furthest corners of the Middle Kingdom takes us through the mud and rubble of a country reconstructing and reinventing itself. But the ever-present question is whether the people traveling along this journey fully comprehend where it is taking them. Western symbols of material aspiration are bizarrely plastered over the confusion of a state in transition. The result is a collection of surreal but subtle juxtapositions. Henley's observations are sometimes ironic, but always full of humanity. His images are both enjoyable and deeply insightful, and together they form an important documentary of today's China.