His project is suffused with a sense of transience, partly because of the proximity of the river, with its natural ebbs and flows, but more disturbingly because of the dramatic man-made transformation he records along the banks.
“I chose the Yangtze as a symbol of change,” Kander says. “The statistics blew my mind. Ten thousand ships enter and leave the river every day. More people live along the Yangtze than in the whole of the United States.”
From the estuary to the middle reaches, the brittleness of man’s constructions is juxtaposed with the mutability of the river’s flow. Buildings seem to have been thrown up without any planning or respect for the country’s ancient traditions. Near the mouth of the river at Pudong, two giant, western-style homes – complete with pillars and gables – sit side by side in what appears to be a vanity competition. The newest of them – still not complete, like almost every building in this series – rises up six floors, one higher than its neighbour.
…At times, Kander’s images echo classical ink paintings. In one, a cloud-wrapped mountain rises dramatically from a broad stretch of river – but modernity is never far away. A freight barge ploughs through this natural landscape and we know that the scenery is about to be reconfigured by the rising waters of the Three Gorges dam reservoir.
In all the pictures, the air and light are fuzzy, even bleached – a reminder of both traditional watercolour techniques and the taint of industrial pollution. “After my first two trips, I realised that I had not seen blue sky once,” Kander says. “The sky in the pictures goes from a yellowy warm to a steely grey depending on the time of day.”
See Kander’s photos here.