When talking about recent events with young chongqing residents, I heard a young girl saying laughingly” at least the one good thing that Bo Xilai did, was to put chongqing on the map”
My personal history with chongqing goes back to the summer of 2009 when I embarked with a large format camera to capture urban landscapes of secondary cities in China. As I stepped in this gigantic metropolis for the first time, I had a limited knowledge of its history and no idea of what was happening deep down in the streets of this city. Since then, the extraordinary amount of stories that saw the light could be compared to an HBO TV series. Before 2009, the city had one of the most powerful organize crime groups in the country. A few weeks after my return from Chongqing, the leader of the mafia, a middle age woman, got arrested with most of her partners in crime. A few month later, the son of a famous revolutionary, Bo Xilai, was nominated to put back the city in the right direction. He launched what are famous policies from ” Sing Red” to “Strike the black” to get rid of the organized crimes and to go back to a neo maoist culture. All went too well and a few month ago , when Wang lijun, the police chief and vice mayor escaped to the American Embassy in Chengdu, another disastrous chapter of chongqing life was seeing the light. Conspiracies, Bribing, illegal detentions and possible murder plots are at the center of the Bo Xilai administration who has been dismissed. The central government is now reversion its praises and pointing the finger towards the “red prince” .
But Chongqing stories are going far more back than just a few years ago. In 1929 Chongqing became a municipality of the Republic of China and was even a temporary capital for Chiang Kai Sheck during the sino-japanese war. Build in a mountainous region, the 2 rivers going through the city gives it a highly 3 dimensional looks. Since the beginning of the Three Georges Dam project, the city has seen one of the fastest urbanisation in China with the arrival of many people coming from the drown cities. To accomodate the new comers, the city has grown vertically on the steep sides of the river.
Since my first trip in 2009, I came back to chongqing on regular basis. While mostly shooting for magazine and newspaper ( Le Monde / New York Times / Architecture d’Aujourd’hui and a book on Architecture called Made by Chinese ), the city kept me curious and I developed a high interest in it. This is why I decided to come back here to work on a personal projects portraying this incredible place. By shooting its impersonal and violent urban growth together with the portraits of its inhabitants, I hope to give an honest portrait of city that fascinates me both by its looks and its stories.
Here are some of the first urban photos from this series under development:
In the arid landscape of Chinese’ inner mongolia, local authorities have decided to use the extra revenue from its rich coal lands to build a new modern city. Together with very modern architecture, developer are currently constructing some of the biggest housing complexes & mega-blocks in the world. Kangbashi is the new city of ordos. Built to house millions, its current population is just about 100 000. But as most of international media were pointing towards a ghost city, in the past couple of years, streets of ordos are not as deserted as before. Succession of expensive cars are strolling through the streets and some of the newly finished appartement complex are occupied. Despite the signs, the city is starting to grow a life. But it is its surreal surdimension that I have documented in those photos. The A-town complex is the new district of Ordos / Kangbashi composed of a giant housing complex with currently more than 120 apartment buildings under construction. Around the site, empty large roads are drawn and constructed through a desert like landscape. In the center of the city, the top cultural buildings as the museum of Ordos and the museum of Modern Art are designed by some edgy chinese architects such as Ma Yansong ( MAD ) and Xu Tiantian (DnA). This construction of a city too big for its in inhabitants is another push forwards towards a real-estate bubble currently happening in China. This small project was shot with the nx200 in partnership with samsung, the photos can be found and voted for on this page : www.facebook.com/samsungnx
“Cashing in on the Gobi desert ” is my first attempt of a full report, both text and images. As I travelled through Mongolia last summer, I wanted to understand how this newly opened country was processing its foreign investments. The result is presented in a 7 double page article ( photos + text ) in the latest issue of the global journal ( link online tease article here ).
The global journal is available in major international newsstand in europe and the US or directly through their website.
When I first arrived in shanghai in 2005, I lived in the Jing’An district. The district is located around a Jing’An temple, a modern temple located around a luxurious shopping mall. At that time, everything south of the temple was made of old 1980′s building where small shops and restaurants could be found. In a little more than 5 years, this whole stretch has become a giant construction site for luxurious hotel and high rise buildings. Looking it back at the past, I am having a hard time even remembering how this district looked exactly when I first arrived. As the district is still in construction, it is amazing to observe how shanghai is rising vertically.
Since the late 2000′s, with Mongolia opening its doors to foreign investments, the face of the capital city, Ulan Bator is changing. As on one side, the economy is booming and foreign companies are moving into high rise modern towers occupied by fancy restaurants and luxury shops, the north of the city is developing towards another direction.
With the coldest winters ever recorded in 2008 / 2009, thousands of herders have left the countryside hoping to find a job in the city. But with the government sharing the wealth from the mine in cash instead of infrastructure, poor people are accumulating on the hills north of Ulan Bator, creating a slum of Gers and small houses. With no access to water and sometimes electricity, they are burning their trash and coal to warm themselves in the winter, creating a suffocating cloud of pollution above the Ulan Bator.
At the same time, foreign educated mongolians and the new wealthy part of the population are experiencing fast changes and an access to an exclusive lifestyle, yet inaccessible for the majority of mongolia’s inhabitants.
< click here for the full page portfolio story >
>> archive photos of Ulan Bator
>> full page story of gobi desert & mining in mongolia
>> archive photos for the Oyu Tolgoi mining project
>> archive photos for the illegal mining and gobi desert
The Mongolian Gobi Desert contains large and undiscovered deposits of gold & copper. In 2010, a major contract was signed between the mongolian government and Invanhoe Mining ( Canada) for the construction of the biggest mining project in Mongolia. This project has boomed foreign investments and is currently changing the economic landscape of Mongolia. The Oyu Tolgoi mining company employs mostly mongolian nationals but their contractor, mining construction company Fluor is employing only Chinese Nationals ( 10 000 at peak ). Every month, every single Mongolian citizen is receiving the equivalent of 17 US dollars from the mining project. But this cash is often missused and the Mongolian government is not investing in new infrastructures.
Since the early 2000, with harsh winters, a lot of mongolian have abandonned herding to illegually dig for cold. Compare to 4.6 billions investment of Oyu Tolgoi, their equipment is highly archaic and they often work in dangerous conditions, both treatened by their working conditions and by the police chasing them in the desert. They are called “the ninja miners”.
> click here for the full screen portfolio story <
> click here for the Oyu Tolgoi ming project photo archive <
> click here for the Gobi desert / Ninja Miners photo archive <
More stories about mongolia to be continued on that blog including:
- Ulan Bator | From Louis Vuitton to the Ger City
- Shamanism | How the youth is coming back to their tradition
- Foreign investment in Mongolia
- Mongolian Portraits
all photos and stories belongs to Tim Franco