Story by Vincent Laforet

"China is the story of this century." Whether in the media, by word of mouth, or in the financial sector, everyone refers to the boundless future of this fascinating country.

China is growing and modernizing at an unparalleled rate. The Chinese government and its people are working overtime to build new skyscrapers and more modern infrastructure that will allow it to better compete with other superpowers. Families are leaving the countryside, arriving daily by the hundreds at city train stations. The old narrow streets and small buildings are torn down on a daily basis - in every direction you look, a construction crane looms. The rate of change is dizzying to anyone visiting the country - and perhaps to its residents as well.

During my recent trip to China, I was taken aback by the change I was witnessing - and at it's feverish pace. I have never read of, or witnessed such a change as a journalist.
The photographs I had seen of China, mostly show the modern areas, such as the Bundt financial district in Shanghai.

We see images of Chinese people with cell phones and business suits. Yet I have seen few, if any, essays that document this amazing change or the effect it is having on the Chinese people.

What is astounding is that when one walks around Shanghai, there does not appear to be a gradual change from the old and modern neighborhoods - a home from the 1920s on the left of the street is overshadowed by a modern high-rise on the right sight of the street. Yet when one drives a few miles into the countryside, it is clear that "progress" has not benefited everyone. The dichotomy between the rural and urban landscapes is impossible to miss.

The current essay, is but a first impression - I would like to work on an essay over the next few years that would document the country's growth and the effect it is having on both the elders and children.
New neighborhoods are being torn down and rebuilt. Social and economic classes are being redefined.I shot this essay over an eight-day-period, walking the streets for 10 to 14 hours a day with only the one Xpan camera and 45mm lens.

My colleague Fred Conrad had suggested that I shoot in the panoramic format given China's architecture. What you are seeing in effect is simple street photography - or a tourist's first glimpse into a country he had only read, studied, and dreamed about through history books and novels. I hope to continue the project, and to do so in a more structured way.

I believe this evolution in China to be an important, and relevant story that needs to be told. I am not only amazed by the change - but also by the Chinese people's willingness to embrace it. I felt a true sense of balance in the lives and psyches of the Chinese people during my recent visit - and am interested to see how that balance will be affected by modern capitalistic ideals.

Images and text © Vincent Laforet 2001

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