“The roots of the economic miracle, the elemental mix of earth and sweat and smoke.”
Ian Teh explores the industrial hinterlands of China’s far-flung and impoverished provinces with unflinching precision and subtle intensity. From industrialisation to pollution, these photographic works present the landscape as a repository for humanity’s endeavors, somehow a source of memory and a silent testament to our material desires. In the world’s most populous country Teh has made landscape pictures with close to no people in sight, letting the terrain speak for itself.
Over-mined and ruptured lands have resulted in an organic architecture, reflecting man’s belief that what lies beneath the surface has greater value than what lies above. Yet these photographs do not propose to dictate an easy answer to the problematic balance between improved living standards and environmental nightmares. To quote a retired truck driver in Inner Mongolia “Nowadays we have a better standard of living even if our life spans are shorter. Nothing made here stays here; our government has exported our blue skies to the west.”
In contrast to the landscape vistas we are intermittently submerged into the intimate chronicles of daily life in these environments. Visually darker and obscured, these photographs capture the working conditions at China’s industrial core. We are offered a context in which the passing of time appears fleeting in comparison to the icy stillness and longevity of the land.
Ultimately, the brilliant glare from China’s metropolises can be traced back to the hinterland and its migrant workers. There, as in all of China, Ian Teh sees the dream of a nation, the cost and what is deferred for future generations.
Ian Teh currently lives and works in London. In 2011 he was awarded the Emergency Fund from the Magnum Foundation. Teh’s work was also highly commended for the Prix Pictet prize in 2010 and 2009 and he was awarded a place in the Joop Swart Masterclass in 2001. His works have featured in art publications such as in Elena-Ochoa Foster’s C - International Photo Magazine as well as in international current-affair magazines such as Time and Newsweek. In 2010, the literary magazine Granta published a 10-year retrospective of his work in China.
82 Kingsland Road,
London E2 8DP27
May - 2 July 2011
Private View Thursday 26 May 6-8pm