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- Photos and text by Rian Dundon
- Foreword by Gail Hershatter
- Essay by Y.Z.

Pitch video
- Co-produced by Michael Raines,

Technical specification :
244 pages
2-color printing
216 x 280mm, closed format, portrait
170 gsm GardaMatt paper case bound, hard cover

I first went to China on a whim. I didn´t really know what I was getting into. It was 2005 and I was 24-years-old. I made a one-year commitment to stay in the country. In the end I stayed for six.

At first, when I didn´t speak the language, I would hang out in pool halls and practice counting balls in Chinese. I couldnñ t talk but I knew how to play and I knew how to swap cigs with the hustlers and lookers-on. Later my Mandarin came and I could go to dinner with people or hit the karaoke clubs. Mr. Tian was a whiskey wholesaler and one of our first friends. His brother owned The Red East - a popular nightclub and karaoke house where I got my first taste of provincial nightlife with the bar´s cast of boozers, working girls, and off-duty cops. I photographed. During the day I moved through the city digesting what I saw. I began to develop an idea of the kind of pictures I wanted to make in China, but I knew it wouldn`t be possible in just one year. It was important that I avoid the typical images - the Mao posters and soldiers, the futuristic cityscapes – and remain true to an experience separate from politics. I wanted to make pictures that didn’t necessarily read as China. Personal photographs. Private photographs.

Changsha was a sprawling metropolis of ad hoc concrete, grand boulevards and neon dreams laced with an energy that made me dizzy. Here were six million people in a city literally built on top of its own ashes and I loved it. I did my best to absorb everything, every bit of local language or news or culinary offering. And I photographed, alwaysm photographed. Only now I wasn´t just a visitor or a journalist. Without a story to cover or a deadline to meet, I consigned myself to the sensuality of living, engaging with the people I met and staying open to different modes of experience. I hung out at underground gay bars and punk clubs, rode sand dredging barges up the Xiang river, toured zinc mines, and spent long nights conversing intensely over warm beer and spicy barbeque.

Making photographs was a way to interact with the world outside myself, a way to contribute to the conversation through collaboration with others.

More than anything, the stories I´m presenting in this book are about the ways that ordinary people do what they have to do to get by. Dealing with forces beyond our control, in the end we all make the same kinds of decisions about our day-to-day survival. The people I know in Hunan are bit players in the unfolding epic of China´s development. But where the processes of modernity encroach on ones ability to provide and abide, the basic demands of life and family become a negotiation guided by pragmatism, never politics.

China has been heralded an economic miracle. The next great world power. A success. But rapid growth is dislocating. It complicates the way people see themselves and their place in the world. This project contextualizes the changes taking place in provincial China with the fragility of lives lived. The vulnerability of people living in a society set on fast-forward. Theirs is the emotional legacy of inconstancy and sustained cultural shift. China is a civilization in flux.

CHANGSHA is a city on fire.

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Rian Dundon


Rian Dundon is a documentary photographer from San Francisco. This project is supported in part by grants from the University of California, the Tierney Family Foundation and Willis W. and Ethel M. Clark Foundation.

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