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Interview with Ian Teh, Dark Clouds

I was very struck by the fact that in same pictures people look like very small, almost miniatures, surrounded by the contest, the outside. Is this element functional to your purpose?

I wanted to show that the people I pictured were overwhelmed by their environment. I see the workers in these places as cogs in a giant machine; whilst they have their own individual aspirations they are very much swept along the machinations of China’s great wave of economic development.

One of the most important question for an author is to choose the right media to express his work. Why did you decide for a slide show? What kind of difference (or plus) there is in confront of a traditional reportage, in your opinion?

The slide show is just one other platform that I would use to present the work. I am equally happy to exhibit and publish my work. Each platform for dissemination has its advantages and disadvantages. In today’s photography it is important to consider these various options.

These industrial parks and coal mine are (obviously) far from cities. I’m wondering if this distance could be social and conceptual also. I mean: is it possible to talk about a sort of “isolation” and “disavowal” – more or less declared – for those workers and situations? 

These industrial parks are often not very far away. In fact their proximity to living areas or urban spaces is what probably exacerbates the air quality in many Chinese cities. This is in part a legacy of Mao who once claimed that he would like to see the skyline of Beijing populated with smoke stacks. To him, at that time, chimneys were a sign of china’s industrial modernization and not necessarily a sign of the very negative environmental consequences that we now tend to associate with them.

As we can read on Vimeo, the video originated a lively debate. The commentators mainly divide into two groups: “It’s a normal, real cost of development” and “I didn’t know these extremely bad conditions of work of many people in the world”. Did you expect these reactions? Did you focus yourself more on the working conditions or environmental ones or both of them?

The video addresses both those points, I don’t see them as separate. On one level it is about the cost of development. Every industrialized society has been through this process. However in today’s world the technology exists so that the price needn’t be so high. Unchecked development means that environmental damage caused is not accounted for in the final figure. This ultimately means that the real price to be paid for success won’t be fully apparent until far in the future.

(Interview with Ian Teh by Anna Mola)

Ian TehIan Teh (www.ianteh.com) “I am currently based in London. Much of my artistic creativity stems from my interests in social, environmental and political issues. I imagine my work as a series of short films made out of stills.
They are narratives that are built on moments of time collected over extended periods.
Each story is a woven fabric of compositional and colour threads that come together to create a particular ambience intended to both emphasize my perspective on the subject matter and to, hopefully, encourage the viewer to take the narrative beyond the limits of my frame, into a direction that makes the experience of those images more vivid.”

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Anna Mola

Anna Mola (www.annamola.wordpress.com/), independent critic and curator. More »

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