The late-emerging, self-taught artist Ángel Marcos is yet another contemporary photographer who has turned his camera to China’s megalopolises. His latest photography project was part of a trip he made during January 2007 around the major drivers of Chinese economic expansion – Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai. The resulting photographs bear witness to the glaring opposition between past and present, old and new, through advertising slogans, juxtapositions of different types of architecture and the clash of metropolitan landscapes.

His photographs are traces of things that will soon be swept up by the tide of modernisation and progress; steaming foodstands on the street corner, parked bicycles on the pavement, pagodas, little temples, washing hung out to dry on a tangled mess of telephone wires are often seen overshadowed by slick high rises that loom large in the background. Similarly modern bridge constructions collide with the more historical Chinese urbanisms, poignantly exacerbating their vulnerability.

For Marcos, China also represents a part of a wider body of work, rounding off a trilogy he began six years earlier in New York and continued in Havana in 2004. Though the locations are completely different he has followed the same intellectual itinerary through his dialogues with the various cities in an attempt to project his personal vision of the contrast between the powers that be and the realities and desires of the people that are governed by them.

Around the Dream, the first part of the trilogy, was carried out in New York in 2001. In this series the photographer pondered the use of the billboards that dominate the vista of Manhattan as symbols of desire embodied by the city. A desire for success and power that, in direct contrast, encounters piles of rubbish, homeless people and countless stories of life disappointment and dissatisfaction. With In Cuba (2004-06) he again worked with slogans, but this time they were those belonging to the Socialist Revolution instead of the logos and catchphrases coined for consumerism.

The choice of China as his final destination is especially fitting: what was previously a Communist regime but has now given way to unbridled capitalism. It is a conceptual amalgam of his two previous investigations and as he plunged himself into this distant Eastern reality he reflected what was happening all around him and has returned with a unique take on today’s complex and contradictory China. 

Tim Clark


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