About the Yangtze, China’s Yellow River
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.
Kechun’s initial motivation
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.”
Zhang’s two year journey
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.
Pollution and ecological destruction of the Yellow River
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.
The severed head of Buddha
A Buddha statue was thrown in the middle of a coal mining plant. The area is surrounded by mines and coal, and there is a temple in the mountain. A coal mine owner built a golden statue of a dozen meters. The Buddha’s head of at least 5 meters, big and heavy, was broken. Because of Buddha’s concept of people, no one wants to smash it and throw it away, so it stands in the coal factory.
Zhang Kechun – Buddha in Coal Yard, Ningxia Province, 2011
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 – Stone in the Middle of the River, Chongqing, 2013
Zhang Kechun – Workers Taking Midday Rest beside a Bridge, Gansu, 2010
Zhang Kechun – Two Men Painting a House in the River, Gansu, 2011
Zhang Kechun – People Doing Morning Excercise under a Dragon Lamp, Gansu, 2011
Zhang Kechun – A man photographing by the river, Gansu province
Zhang Kechun – People Crossing the Yellow River with a Photo of Mao Zedong, Henan, 2012
Inner Mongolia province
Zhang Kechun – Man Pumping Water in Wasteland, Ningxia Province, 2011
Zhang Kechun – Workers Building Bridge Piers for a High-Speed Railway, Shaanxi, 2011
Zhang Kechun – A Man Standing on an Island in the Middle of the River, Shaanxi, China, 2012
Zhang Kechun – People Fishing by the River, Shaanxi, 2012, Archival Pigment Print, 90.2×109.2 cm
Zhang Kechun – Fake Hill in the Middle of the Lake, Shandong, 2011
Zhang Kechun – Family Spending the Weekend Under the Bridge, Shandong, 2011
Zhang Kechun – People Drink Tea by the River, 2013
Zhang Kechun – View of the Yellow River from a window of construction site
Zhang Kechun – Lake in the Desert, 2014
All images by Zhang Kechun/zhangkechun.com unless otherwise noted.
Video: Zhang Kechun speaks about his Yangtze river photos
Photographer Zhang Kechun captures the beauty and sorrow of China’s Yellow River and how it represents a changing society.
- Nadav Kander: 3 years taking photos of China’s longest river
- Everything they own: Huang Qingjun’s intimate portraits of Chinese families
- Chinese girls are observing transformation of their city – Weng Fen
- Edward Burtynsky’s impressive photos of massive Chinese industrial landscapes
- Colorful madness in Shanghai – Alan Delorme