/12 River

Ferit Kuyas

City of Ambition

Large cities are the main focus of my personal work since the late Nineties. City of Ambition is a visit to one of the largest cities in the world, Chongqing. I am showing cityscapes as the sheer dimensions of the city are very impressive to me. Like most of my work also this project has autobiographic roots: I got to know the city through my now ex-wife, whose family lives there and always made me feel at home.

Chongqing was granted municipal status in 1997, rather late compared to Shanghai. But the people of Chongqing are very eager to show the world and their sister cities in China how powerful they are. With the booming economy this leads to an explosion in city development. What is taking place there resembles the ongoings in Manhattan in the twenties – when Manhattan was built. Stieglitz’ words “City of Ambition“, which he used to describe the Manhattan of those days describes the actual situation in Chongqing quite well. The people of Chongqing are on their way to build a megalopolis.

Despite that, I am mainly interested in the outskirts of Chongqing, where the city can’t be really seen but sensed, like a tiger moving through the jungle – invisible, yet there. Construction sites and places of change show metaphorical facets of the huge shift taking place in contemporary China. The landscape formed by the two large rivers blending in the city will completely change when the water level reaches its maximum as part of the reservoir formed by the Three Gorges Dam. What dramatical effects this will cause to the city of Chongqing can only be guessed today.

The fog dominating most pictures is real. In China the city of Chongqing is nicknamed as the City of Fog. It reflects the big mystery China still is for me. After 23 visits it seems like the more I learn the less I know. Often it feels like moving trough a surreal scenery, set up to make a movie.

This body of work definitely has a strong documentary component. The ability to transport emotions through my imagery is yet equally important to me. I believe that the combination of the two is vital for a strong and lasting impression.

Being aware of the many challenges China is facing, I do not think it is appropriate for me to point my finger at these issues. I am not willing to depict a friend – which China has become for me over a period of 12 years of intense traveling. I rather chose a softer way, like talking to a friend. So I did work with a distanced and wide-angled view. Still the spectator can sneak into the picture and discover many of today China’s issues.

Also I am not interested in further transporting clichés like overpopulation or touristic spots. This kind of imagery has been exploited by others at large already.
The immense size of the city, cold, heat, humidity, fog, dust and traffic turned this project into an adventure. Using a 4×5“ view camera forced me to work slowly. Travel logistics required me to limit my equipment. I worked with color negative film and restricted myself to one exposure per image. The project would not have been possible without the help of my sister-in-law who grew into being my photoassistant and my brother-in-law, who took whole days off to drive me through Chongqing, on the search for interesting locations.

Astonishingly, Chongqing is an unknown place for most people in the Western World. The city is located in Southwest China’s region of Sichuan. Chongqing was the capital of China during World War II. Today the municipality is populated by approx. 32 million people.

The images in the project are from several visits to Chongqing from 2005 to 2008. The whole body of work consists of 380 images.