The root of Zhang Xiao’s (1981) fascination for the ocean can be traced back to his childhood. Sublime and seemingly unbeatable, Zhang has always regarded its waves as both a source of rich photographic material and emotional catharsis.
The award-winning collection Coastline (2009-2013) captures the “beautiful and painful” aspects of globalization and modernity in China. Through its illustrations of the quickly urbanizing Chinese coastline, the viewer is invited to reflect upon a life spent balancing the ever-present construction rubble with rapid transnational mobility and blissful touristic leisure. A life in the rugged yet beautiful Chinese Anthropocene.
As the country scrambles to modernize its economy, Zhang—photographing tragically littered beaches, strolling newlyweds, and restless swimmers, on a Mamiya 7 II camera—contemplates the perpetual homesickness and rootlessness that increasingly characterizes contemporary life in China.
A specter of traumatic modernity reverberates through the images, and as Zhang returns to the coastline, his childlike fascination is now accompanied by mature self-examination: “The sea is the beginning of lives and dreams, at the same time; I am looking for a hometown in my heart.”
Written by Asbjørn Killen Jahn