Zhang Kechun – Buddha in Coal Yard, Ningxia Province, 2011
The Yangtze River, Asia’s longest river, is the main subject of The Yellow River, a series of photographs by Zhang Kechun. The Yangtze is praised as the cradle of Chinese evolution owing to the central function it played in the civilization of ancient China. Paradoxically, the river is also referred to as China’s sorrow, based on the ferociousness of the river during flooding season.
For many years, the matriarch river of the Chinese nation has been cited in various writings of poets and artists, and it therefore comes as no surprise that Chengdu-based photographer Zhang Kechun took it upon himself to photograph the river. As a young boy, Zhang had read about the river, and he understood its significance as a pertinent symbol of the Chinese nation. On this, he says, “I wanted to photograph the river respectfully,” “It represents the root of the nation.”
Having spent two years at the bank of the river, Zhang formed an affinity for it. Not only was he taking his time capturing its essence, but he also acted as a sort of tour guide to tourists that visited the region. The end result of his 2-year labor is an expansive portfolio that has the essence of a pilgrimage. He manages to expertly capture the silent moments of the Yellow River and the expansive gray skies that nearly envelop every corner of the landscape. The photographs emit a stillness that is almost wraithlike and transient. His pictures also include the people within the landscape as well as classical relics he found along his photography journey.
The photographs also expose the environmental destruction that has come with contemporary living. According to Zhang, the purpose of his artistic pilgrimage was not to reveal the ecological destruction of the Yellow River but he ran into so much pollution that to fail to capture it would have been negating the truth and the essence of the photographs. “I started off wanting to photograph my ideal of the river, but I kept running into pollution,” he said. “I realized that I couldn’t run away from it and that I didn’t need to run away from it ”, says Zhang.
Although the project has overcast and foreboding undertones, he hopes to spread a message of hope to his Chinese counterparts; that regardless of how much change the world undergoes, some things like nature and the Yellow River are bound to stand the test of time.
Zhang Kechun – Fake Hill in the Middle of the Lake, Shandong, 2011
Zhang Kechun – Workers Taking Midday Rest beside a Bridge, Gansu, 2010
Zhang Kechun – Workers Building Bridge Piers for a High-Speed Railway, Shaanxi, 2011
Zhang Kechun – View of the Yellow River from a window of construction site
Zhang Kechun – The Yellow River
Zhang Kechun – The Yellow River
Zhang Kechun – People Fishing by the River, Shaanxi, 2012, Archival Pigment Print, 90.2×109.2 cm
Zhang Kechun – People Drink Tea by the River, 2013
Zhang Kechun – People Doing Morning Excercise under a Dragon Lamp, Gansu, 2011 Archival Pigment Print, 90.2×109.2 cm
Zhang Kechun – People Crossing the Yellow River with a Photo of Mao Zedong, Henan, 2012
Zhang Kechun – Man Pumping Water in Wasteland, Ningxia Province, 2011
Zhang Kechun – Lake in the Desert, 2014
Zhang Kechun – A man photographing by the river, Gansu province
Zhang Kechun – Family Spending the Weekend Under the Bridge, Shandong, 2011