The Luminous Landscape Grant
Minorities in Xinjiang
Jacek Oleksinski - Skane, Sverige
The culture of the Kyrgyz and Tajik minorities of far western China's Xinjiang province are threatened by China's rapid economic expansion. My ambition is to document the life and beauty of this isolated place and its people.
It's now been over 1 year since I return from my visit to Kyrgyzstan and the memories are still fresh in my mind. The picturesque landscapes, friendly people, excellent food as well as the resilience of the ordinary people as they conducted their daily lives.
I traveled throughout the country from the clear blue waters of lake Issyk-Kul , through Karakol and onto the Songkol lake where I lived with the nomads. Time was spend with a local families, photographing their lives and the landscapes. The visits gave me an appetite to document and experience even more of Central Asia.
There has been quite a lot of discussions in the media how life changed in the region after the collapse of the Soviet Union. New boarders were hastily drawn and different nationalities, Kyrgyz, Uzbeks and Tajiks ended up as minorities in the neighboring countries
However this trauma was experienced much earlier in China. For centuries the Kyrgyz and Tajik minorities of far western China's Xinjiang province were cut of from their brothers and sisters. Despite this they have managed to maintain a strong identity.
The rapid growth of China's economy and in particular the latest project, one belt one road, has already had a large impact on the region. New roads have been build , high speed trains are available and the old parts of for example Kashgar have been torn down and replaced by more modern architecture.
There's no doubt that the rapid economical development has improved the life for the people. However the old ways of life of the nomads has a historical importance and an immense appeal to tourists visiting the region. The same goes for the impressive lakes, forests, deserts and mountains scattered around the region. It's important to show that this should be saved while at the same time highlight how important the area is for future tourist revenues.
My project would focus on showing in particular how the Kyrgyz and Tajiks still maintain their semi nomadic lifestyle. I would travel around the area and document their daily lives and show them as an integral part of the beautiful landscape. Often off road vehicles will be necessary to reach the most isolated villages where I'll be able to find the most traditional way of life.
All of this will only be possible with the active participation of the locals in Xinjiang. Finding these people will take up a large parts of the initial preparations. Finding a local guide will be the first priority as this person will not only act as a translator but also as a bridge explaining the project to the local people and if necessary to the authorities as well.
The idea is to produce a photo exhibition that will be shown in Beijing to highlight what could be lost if the people and their environment is not taken into consideration as China expands it economic ambitions throughout the region. A photography book could also be created with the support of Chinese companies as sponsors wanting to create goodwill for their brand.
When the awareness grows about the uniqueness of this area among the general Chinese public it will hopefully be more difficult to make too many radical changes.