MY FIRST VISIT TO CHINA was in 1997 when I went to photograph the “World Elevator” fair in Shanghai. From that moment, I felt at home in China. One year later in September 1998, I met my future wife. When we went to visit her family, I saw Chongqing for the first time. This was the starting point for City of Ambition.
My first impression of Chongqing was a heat and brightness so strong that it hurt my eyes. My wife and I were only able to visit my in-laws in the city during summers, which are hot and humid. I was deeply impressed by the drama of the place itself: three dimensional, hilly, very busy, construction sites everywhere, and two huge rivers blending in the middle. I immediately knew I would photograph there.
Until 2003 I photographed all my personal projects in black and white. After learning more about China, it became obvious to respond to the Chinese people’s love of color.
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It was dark when I arrived in Chongqing. The next morning, the view from my hotel window was quite unexpected—foggy and drizzly. I called my sister-in-law who became my photo assistant, while her husband took days off from work to drive us around and find places to photograph. When she told me that this weather would continue into the afternoon, I told her we should postpone the shoot until later. Her response was very surprising, “the weather would be the same for three weeks.” The city’s nickname is City of Fog, so eventually I settled on the idea of photographing a foggy city.
I like to photograph industrial landscapes, wastelands and places that show signs of decay, waiting for change. While photographing, people would ask: “Why are you taking a picture of something so ugly?” to which I explained that I find beauty in ugliness.
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City of Ambition is a quote from Alfred Stieglitz, which he used to describe the Manhattan of the 1920s and 30s, when a city full of skyscrapers was being built. Something similar is happening in today’s Chongqing, which is becoming a megalopolis.
Rather than on a mission to point fingers, I am an observer. My relationship with China, especially with Chongqing, is full of love and friendship. This is why I prefer to keep the view of my images distant and wide. It is up to the viewer to look closely at my photographs.
While I was working on this project my marriage collapsed; we divorced in 2008. I find that I create my most honest work when I am emotionally down. My feelings are always involved when I photograph. I realize that my projects become less about documenting and more about my emotions. This scares me when I reflect upon my future.
by Ferit Kuyas