In the What's New in Changsha Facebook group, someone recently posted this very interesting video about our city. Please check it out.
Wow, that makes Changsha look so exciting! Turns out this video is basically a commercial for a book coming out called Changsha (so original!). The site hosting the video is a crowdfunding site where people who have developed independent projects seek financial backers. The idea is that if many people give a small amount, the funds add up and an independent artist creates something new to share with the world. The video is very impressive and since I live in Changsha, I find it exciting to see a book being published about our small town.
The book is mainly black and white photos taken by Rian Dundon over the course of 6 years in Changsha. He says "I didn’t set out to make a statement about China, [but rather wanted to show] the ways people get by.” An admirable goal. People are always out to capture the "real" China whether in photographs, books, movies, or just attempt to experience it for themselves. I'm planning on buying the book when it comes out this summer, but the more I watch the video and the more I read about it and Mr. Dundon, the more dubious I feel about it and how it portrays my city.
I have no problem with art. I love art. Any my gut reaction to this project is to accept it as art, not an accurate representation of what Changsha (or any Chinese city) is actually like. But that isn't what Dundon set out to do. He says "I did my best to absorb everything, every bit of local language or news or culinary offering. And I photographed, always photographed." He atempted to assimilate, to blend in and then show the world this city through his new eyes. But is what came out accurate? Most likely not. My main issue is how he (and people helping to get the word out) are sensationlizing this book and city. He "began to learn Mandarin in the city’s pool halls, counting balls in Chinese, and practicing his language skills with local billiards sharks and spectators. He befriended a liquor salesman and a bar owner who introduced him to a grittier side of the city’s nightlife." He is making it sound like Changsha has this deep, dark underbelly that he snuck into and is exposing for everyone to see. But life just isn't like that here. There are clubs, and bars, and dives, but what city doesn't have that? Yeah, I haven't been seeking out these "dark sides" and I'm sure some people will just say that I'm naieve. But the sheer level of hyperbolic language in these interviews are comedic if not flat out rediculous. One reporter says Dandon "looks Chinese." Apparently the author has never actually seen a Chinese person. Language like "the sensuality of living" and "Changsha confederates" is so over-the-top is is hard to actually take anything he says seriously. He also acts like he was living a very dangrous life in Changsha with his secret camera that he had to keep "under the radar" of government officals. Have you seen my Facebook page? I have taken hundreds of pictures. No one cares.
Dandon says that "only by staying open to different tracks of experience would I be able to produce something honest." But no one who actually lives here in this city actually believes his work is "honest." One fellow resident of Changsha said "He'd make my daily bus ride to school sound like Ulysses" and another said "I would accept it as poetry, not as information! Fake!" And what is also interesting is that he claimed to live here for 6 years...but no one in town has heard of him. Hmmm....
I'll be buying the book, and I can't wait to write a review of it when it gets here!