Zhang Kerchun

 

Zhang Kerchun was born in Sichuan in 1980 and currently lives in Chengdu.

Zhang Kerchun creates large photographic works using a large format film-based camera. His subject matter is a very strange but very real world, the natural world rapidly changing due to the impact of population and development.

Zhang Kechun makes a journey down the Yellow River to create a series of photographs titled ”The River Rushes North”. He was inspired after reading “River of the North” by Zhang Chengzhi and felt that the river that was once full of legends was rapidly disappearing.

Known as the mother river by Chinese people it is considered the cradle of Chinese civilisation. It is the second longest river in China after the Yangtze. The headwaters of this mighty river lie in Kunlun Mountains in north-western Qinghai Province. It runs through nine provinces and autonomous regions on its way to the Bohai Sea. The Yellow River has more than thirty branches and countless streams feeding it through its course. Zhang Kerchun pays homage to the Yellow River through his photographs along its passage. Much of the river has been adversely affected by industrial development.

The photographs of Zhang Kerchun explore this changing landscape of rural China – deserts and rivers are forever changed due to environmental damage and the population struggles to exist. Some of the images are almost minimal in tonal range and show a translucent and vast landscape. There is a sense of a ‘floating world’, veiled and desolate, that has trapped the people in a never-ending dream state. Zhang Kerchun cinematically captures society’s fringe population at work in his muted, yet beautifully pastel worlds.

Zhang says he did not set out to document environmental destruction.

”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.”


There is a strong emotion within each of these photographs. The audience can relate to the devastation of floods and droughts that occur naturally and the destructive changes to the environment that is part of modern development of China. The photographs are a journey and Zhang Kerchun thoughtfully frames his compositions to reveal the relationship of human interaction and the river. The colour of the images is very subdued, the light used to create an almost unbelievable world of strange incongruities – a large disembodied Buddha head sits in a barren wasteland and power station cooling towers are shown with animal sculptures in the foreground. In another image there are two men in wet suits in a pool of muddy water in front of crumbling brick tower. There is also a photo of Chairman Mao floating in a sea of orange inflatables and the bobbing heads of swimmers. There is no explanation provided by the artist about what is happening in the photographs or where along the journey of the river it was taken. This adds to the intrigue.


From the “The River Rushes North”, Series based on the yellow River, 2010-2011, 100 x 75 cm, Archival Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper


From the “The River Rushes North”, Series based on the yellow River, 2010-2011, 100 x 75 cm, Archival Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper


The first impression of these works is of mist, dust and an atmosphere that hinders the ability to see the detail in the landscape. The grey haze contributes to a sense of foreboding. On closer inspection the detail is all there through the fine grain of large format film. The detail of the photographs invites the audience to have a closer look and this engagement with the work is what makes the images so effective. Zhang Kerchun wants people to know and understand the fragility of this great river.

He explains the project as follows:

“We play and chase all day long in the powerful torrent of modernization. Yet the winding river has possibly been put out of our minds. There is no more gaze on it with quite and peace, even for a second. It is a river, with its unity of bends and straight, fullness and imperfection, rapid and slow, active or tranquil, majestic and elegant, simple and wonderful, bright and dark, light and colour, form and spirit, visionary and real. Moreover, it also embraces peoples’ reality and fate, joy and sorrow, firmness and leisure. Then I determined to go and follow its pace, with all my courage and my only presentable equipment the large format camera. That’s the connotation and solemnness I can give…”

Although the muddy tones of the damaged riverscape and the surreal juxtapositions of man-made structures suggest that all is lost, Zhang insists the project carries a message of hope. There is a reason that all the people in his pictures look tiny: 

“The power of humans is nothing compared to the power of nature, even when we try to change it. Century upon century, the river runs.”

http://zhangkechun.com/


From the “The River Rushes North”, Series based on the yellow River, 2010-2011, 100 x 75 cm, Archival Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper


From the “The River Rushes North”, Series based on the yellow River, 2010-2011, 100 x 75 cm, Archival Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper


From the “The River Rushes North”, Series based on the yellow River, 2010-2011, 100 x 75 cm, Archival Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper


From the “The River Rushes North”, Series based on the yellow River, 2010-2011, 100 x 75 cm, Archival Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper


From the “The River Rushes North”, Series based on the yellow River, 2010-2011, 100 x 75 cm, Archival Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper



From the “The River Rushes North”, Series based on the yellow River, 2010-2011, 100 x 75 cm, Archival Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper


From the “The River Rushes North”, Series based on the yellow River, 2010-2011, 100 x 75 cm, Archival Inkjet Print on Fine Art Paper