Le Fleuve Mure

This beautiful and clever book takes as its subject the construction of the Three Gorges Dam in China. Swiss photographer, Pierre Montavon, photographed the affected provinces of Hubei and Chongquin, between 2003 and 2006.

Le Fleuve Mure is eloquently presented in three sequences. The first chapter, photographed in black and white, shows parts of the construction of the dam. Abstract tragic landscapes and details cohabit here, depicting the enormous scale of the dam. The second part is on the human and social upheaval caused by the rise of water level. Numerous neighbourhoods were completely destroyed, forcing more than two million residents to migrate away from their roots and occupations.

When the photographer turns to colour, in the final section, it automatically brings a more modern tone and shows a new side of China. It is dedicated to the country’s urban plans and on the relocation of the population affected by the dam. The sudden use of colour emphasises what has been lost on the way.

It seems a shame that Montavon did not concentrate on one particular family. It would have been fascinating to document the journey and battle of one small group of people rather than have a less personal but more global approach to the situation. Yet the standard of photography, the pristine design and the beautiful Chinese calligraphy which opens the book ensure this oversight is not terminal. The text by Frederic Koller accompanying the photographs is in French, and is also translated into Chinese in the book. It definitely deserves to be translated and published in English too, as it cleverly describes the historical, political, social and ecological impact of the construction of the dam in great detail.

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