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Melanie Dornier | On the river


On The River is a photo essay that documents maritime supply of raw material in China. A type of transport used for centuries and that is helping, now, to respond to important needs of supply due to fast growth.
In reference of past works documenting fast urban changes and exploding growth of the country, On The River is focusing only on supply of raw materials and energy to support new constructions. The documentary occurs on Grand Canal, an important historic maritime path on China economic development. Moreover Grand Canal is based geographically on East Coast that is the most developed part of China. Effectively, starting in Beijing, going through Tianjin and provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang the canal finishes its maritime road in Hangzhou. It creates a link between the Yellow and Yangtze rivers, the two largest natural rivers of China. Today the 1, 776 kms of Grand Canal qualifies it as the most important artificial river of which 70% remains navigable today. The Grand Canal has been for a long time an unavoidable way of commercial transport between the south and north part of the country.

Cities on the side of the Canal, as Suzhou, beneficiate of an economical and easy supply of raw material via maritime transport. Large volumes of materials are driven around east coast and so available to develop towns in large modern urban area. Barges are the most cost effective way to bring construction materials needed it by the area. Cities that are becoming more and more ultra-modern cannot afford shortage of supplies.

On The River zooms on life of barges that transports necessary raw material on Grand Canal. Photo essay has documented life of barges and their boatmen navigating. Boatmen in their wood cabins share their lives. Often a rich businessman owns numerous barges and employs people from all over the country. Barges are rent for long period and people employed per mission. The community of navigating people is quite disparate: incomes are variable so boat’s cabins are as sophisticated as they can be basic. Boatmen are living either with their families or alone with family portraits hanged on the wall. Kids on age to be educated are placed on boarding school or stay with relatives; a choice of life of travelling people.

Boats on berth are loaded and unloaded with old metal cranes. Cranes’ bucket are transporting tons and tons of all type of materials: lime, sand, cement, gravel… Docks’ equipment due to its old age, often necessitates some reparation. Materials are carried with old mechanical ramps all around. Cement factories are frequently based on dock to optimise supply chain. In factory, cement is mixed to produce valuable mix needed for all new constructions. Lines of trucks are waiting to dispatch it all over the building sites. Dock’s workers are living onsite and they often serve as caretaker. An untiring transport on Grand Canal is happening everyday.

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