Untitled No. 51
Beginning in the late 1980s, Chinese photography, previously dominated by social documentary and critique, evolved into a more diverse practice. Hai Bo’s work is a primary example of the turn to more personal examinations of history and contemporary life. Over the last two decades, Hai Bo has returned repeatedly to his hometown of Changchun, in Jilin province in northeastern China. Focusing on the people and the landscape of this remote area, he creates studies on everyday life in a place forever altered by China’s extraordinary economic growth.
The misty and denuded landscape in The Northern No. 14, Untitled No. 36, and Untitled No. 51 demonstrates his masterful approach to exploring the tonal ranges of his medium and heightening the sense of loss in the passage of time. The youthful vitality of two children with ruddy faces in Untitled No. 33 contrasts with the bare road (appearing often in his later images) that stretches into the horizon of a vanishing past or, perhaps, an uncertain future. Using his own biography as a point of departure, Hai Bo poignantly evokes the increasing desolation of rural life and the impossibility of ever returning to the place of one’s memories.