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Zhang Kechun Documents The Bleak Reality Of China’s Yellow River

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Chinese photographer Zhang Kechun documents both the beauty and destruction of China’s second-longest river. His photo series and print publication ‘The Yellow River’ captures vast landscapes alongside the river, that are disappearing due to environmental degradation and industrial ruination.

With an approximate length of 5,500 kilometers, the Yellow River flows through nine different provinces; its basin is said to be the origin of ancient Chinese civilization. The Shaanxi Loess Plateau is responsible for dispensing colossal amounts of yellow silt into the river, giving it its name and color. Once a site of prosperity, the river is filled with a spiritual history in Chinese mythology. “I decided to take a walk along the Yellow River… so that I could find the root of my soul”, explains Kechun in his artist statement. “Along the way, the river from my mind was inundated by the stream of reality. Once full of legends, [the river] had gone and disappeared. That is kind of my profound pessimism”, he writes. Zhang spent four years documenting the river, the results of which reflect a bleak reality: industrial sabotage, pollution, and the long-term effects of floods are portrayed through grey and beige tones. The river has flooded many times and with such extreme consequences, that is has become known as the River of Sorrow. Here, individuals swim and meditate besides concrete monoliths, and fisherman appear microscopic in relation to the surrounding masses of manmade materials. Nevertheless, Kechun asserts that the situation is not all negative: “As a vast country with a long history, [China’s] future is always bright”, he concludes.

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All images © Zhang Kechun