“At first, when I didn’t speak the language, I would hang out in pool halls and practice counting balls in Chinese. I couldn’t hold a conversation but I knew how to play and I knew how to smoke cigarettes. 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 in Jishou where I got my first taste of provincial nightlife.
I began to develop an idea for the kind of pictures I wanted to make, but I knew it wouldn’t be possible in just one year. It was important that I avoid typical imagery — the Mao posters and military, the futuristic cityscapes — and remain true to an experience separate from national narrative. I wanted to make pictures that didn’t necessarily read as China. Personal photographs. Private photographs.”
— Rian Dundon
CHANGSHA by Rian Dundon
Rian Dundon spent his mid-twenties and the early 2000s in China, mostly in small cities far removed from the now frequently publicized worlds of Shanghai and Beijing, teaching English, making photographs, and sometimes tutoring a certain actress.
CHANGSHA is the second of Dundon’s books in a series documenting this period of his life, published by Modes Vu.
The outside world knows China mostly for its scandals, for the absurdities that make it out into and is amplified by the media as its only representation.
But getting to know a place and a people is not about its extremes but about its boring every day. Its normality and the mundane existence of most days and most people. In the media as well as in photography, this is mostly overlooked.
“The most banal clichés attached to China describe it as unknown, inaccessible, remote, and exotic. But the world of second-tier cities, small towns, and villages in Rian Dundon’s Changsha is unknown not because it is inaccessible or remote, but because no one has thought to look; not because it is exotic, but because it is full of ordinary people piecing together lives in a vibrant, scarred, unstable social landscape.
Dundon’s subject is provincial China, far from the glittering and more familiar scenes of Beijing, Shanghai, and other coastal cities. The world he makes visible is neither the mainline east coast success story, nor the rural left-behind story, nor even the hidden-scenic-China story. It is something else altogether — people in marginal but not isolated places, aware of a world beyond their experience but reworking and inventing local versions of it according to their own imaginations and desires, constrained by material difficulties but in no way intimidated by their status as citizens of a purported backwater.”
— Gail Hershatter
What’s Changsha like? Dundon’s book is an answer that says, much like anywhere else.
The city’s young ones dream of moving up and plot their way to success through moves to greener pastures; those left behind look back at their dreams and get by the best they can, making a life out of their present existence.
Days are spent at boring jobs; evenings in restaurants with gossip and bragging; nights in KTVs, heat up and end at motels and in gutters.
And there’s love.
As part of the new economic engine of the world, they do business.
Dundon’s version of second-tier mundanity comes in high-contrast monochrome, loosely shot from the hip or with a flick of the wrist. His subject matter, people like himself born in a world superficially unlike his. The story he tells, the lowest lows and the highest aspirations; life as it is anywhere but that we rarely see because we never thought to look.
This new paperback edition of CHANGSHA is slightly modified from the original 2012 hardcover. A handful of alternate photographs have been introduced, along with image titles and a new introductory note from the author.
Authored by Rian Dundon
Foreword by Gail Hershatter
Edited by Erik Bernhardsson
Published by Modes Vu
5.5" x 8.5" (13.97 x 21.59 cm)
Black & White Bleed on White paper
ISBN-13: 978–9187829260 / 9187829266
As with other Modes Vu titles, CHANGSHA is digitally printed, on demand, and shipped directly from printer to reader.