The Port and the Image: Documenting China’s Harbor Cities
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
“The Port and the Image: Documenting China’s Harbor Cities” is a photographic project focused on documenting China’s ports and the cities that surround them. The goal of this project is to use art to explore the current situation of China’s port cities, and the issues that have arisen during their development in an increasingly integrated global economy. The first phase of this project involves eight photographers from different backgrounds and different fields. Each of them are paired up with a city and a port to focus on – Ningbo, Quanzhou, Guangzhou, Nanjing, Dalian, Shanghai, and Hong Kong.
The seven major ports selected in this project serve as starting points. This project seeks to use photography as a creative tool to analyze how these ports have grown: how their architecture has embraced both modernity and tradition, and how urban space, the environment, society, and culture relate to one another within them. “The Port and the Image” looks to discuss the ways in which a modern port city can be a unique vessel of history and tradition, and how the past and the present interact with one another in a contemporary context. Each of the eight photographers involved in the project have approached it from a different perspective. With their own interests and individual research as a starting point, they have formed concepts that assess both the urban area around the port, the interior beyond the coast, and the commercial and residential spaces between. In doing so, they have developed a deeper understanding of each ports unique situation. Once this has been established, each artist uses their own approach to photography (whether it is video, sound recording, or prints) to make their vision a reality.
“Under the dome of the blue sky and across the records of three continents, the sound of the swelling sea rings true to all merchants around.” The ancient Maritime Silk Road once began on China’s Southeastern coast; it curved around the Malay Peninsula, went across the Indian Ocean, up the red sea and arrived in Northern Africa, Europe and the Middle East. It was in itself a cultural phenomenon: an economic and cultural exchange where multiple religions co-existed and all prospered. The Maritime Silk Road became the basis for China’s foreign trade and its main channel for cultural interaction. With trade came commerce, bringing development to all the countries along the Silk Road route. With the South China Sea as its center, and Ningbo, Quanzhou, and Guangzhou as starting points, the Maritime Silk Road formed some of the oldest trade routes in the world.
Unfolding across three distinct sections – the imagined, the reappearing, and the coast – Zheng Chuan’s “The Port of Ningbo – Fiction and Reality” takes an intricate and imaginative perspective on the transformation of Ningbo, one of Maritime Silk Road’s main ports.
Zhu Lanqing in “Excavations of a Shipwreck” uses the discovery of a late Song Dynasty shipwreck on a beach nearby Quanzhou’s ancient Houzhou Harbor as a starting point. Positioning herself as if she was on the excavation team, Zhu Lanqing juxtaposes two different “excavations” together to reconstruct the history of the port of Quanzhou.
Chen Wenjun and Jiang Yanmei approach Guangzhou from two different angles: the former, through a series of photographs in “Wandering Through Guangzhou After 2000 years” and the later through a video titled, “Three Foreigners Doing Business in Guangzhou”. In both pieces the artists look at the role of Guangzhou as a site of historical East-West exchange and trade.
This edition of “The Port and the Image” also includes Nanjing. Ancient Nanjing was an inland hub for goods from western and central China on the Maritime Silk Road, and was also a connecting point between cities on the eastern seaboard. In 2012, Nanjing became part of the Maritime Silk Road UNESCO world heritage application. The only city in the application that is located in China’s interior, Nanjing is home to a large number of cultural relics and artifacts associated with the Maritime Silk Road. This includes ancient shipyards and docks, personal remains of ancient navigators, religious monuments, sites where foreign envoys arrived in China, tombs of foreign heads of State, ancient records, and historic, imported foreign goods.
Li Chaoyu, in his work “A Nanjing just like Nanjing”, compares the past and present of Nanjing, its history, and its role as an ancient inland port. His work discusses the reality of the problems that exist in China’s current strategy towards historical tourism.
Three of China’s major treaty ports, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Dalian have been witness to another side of history. The changes that each of these cities has undergone are highlighted uniquely through the projects of three different photographers.
Yang Yuanyuan, in her work, focuses on picking out the aspects of Dalian that best represent its recent historical background. Using specific sites in the city as an index, she reconstructs a story out of narrative fragments. Her work, “Dalian Mirage”, uses photographs, text and video to approach the complex issues of colonial history and how the function of urban spaces change throughout different historical periods.
In “Goods, Decades and Sense Shift” Xu Hao takes a typological approach to how business functions as regimes change. Using symbolic objects from a second-hand market, he creates a self-narrating story. Each work is set against a different background to incite different meanings in each new context.
Huang Zhenwei in “Timeless Boundary – Hong Kong” creates a work about Hong Kong that integrates photography, sound samples, text, and other media. He focuses on daily life in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor, using it as a sample to create a surreal urban space that has no dimension of time.
“The Port and the Image: Documenting China’s Harbor Cities” in not only a visual archive of China’s port cities, rather it is a dynamic series of synthesized multi-media research on the culture of port cities in a modern, globalized world. With the support of the China Port Museum in Ningbo, this biannual project allows viewers both online and in the museum to have a better understanding of the history, landscape, and cultural diversity of China’s port cities.
Harbor Cities of China