Ka Yeung’s landscapes of China at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, Dallas

"Long River" by Ka Yeung, 1997

China has captured the popular imagination nowadays but at the same time – or maybe because of this – it is still the subject of popular consciousness legends and elusive mystique. How do you actually imagine such a country? Even with all the abundant information, it is still difficult to reach a grasp of understanding of what it is really like.

As a photographer, Ka Yeung is probably in the best position to show what China is through his landscapes. He is both an distanced outsider (coming from Hong Kong) and a native informant of Chinese history and culture. And photography is after all the most trusted medium to show an elusive reality. Landscapes, especially, are perfect for rendering the glorious beauty of natural expanses and burgeoning humanscapes, which you can expect of China. You can see Ka Yeung’s photos, from a trip he took to China in 1995-1996, at the Crow Collection of Asian Art in Dallas until May 16, 2010.

Yeung’s photos present a variety of points of view on China: close-ups on fragile plants and distant views of gorges, up views of tall buildings and down views from bridges, wide open spaces and cozy intimate nooks. This variety gives the viewer a sense of completeness in covering Chinese landscape. And the black & white medium gives a sense of timelessness of the photos; almost the illusion that they present scenes that could’ve existed 50 years ago.

My favorite photograph of the exhibition is the one of Tiananmen square: it’s a close-up of two Chinese women, apparently visitors from out of town, sitting on the ground with their luggage close by, on the backdrop of a wide vista of the square with its ancient buildings, full of people and life. It’s a conceptual representation of today’s China, both visually and as an idea.

The large sized black & white carbon prints make for an impressive impact on the viewer. But if I have to define them in a sentence, these landscape photos are first of all poetic. Without being melancholic of a lost past or propagandistically enthusiastic, they are documentary with a claim of showing us the truth of what China is today.

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