laurens thys

2019 - Ongoing

East Kazakhstan, Kazakhstan; Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu, China

Laurens Thys (1995, Belgium) is an artist based in Hasselt, Belgium. His work explores documentary storytelling in his own unique way. His photographic style can be defined as cinematic and architectural. His work takes shape as exhibition installations and self-published photo-books. In 2019 he received a master’s degree in photography at the Luca School of Arts in Genk. He graduated with his first large-scale documentary called ‘Granitsa’.

In his images, Laurens Thys starts from his fascination with new industries, often linked to China and his fascination with documentary photography. His research into the ‘New Silk Road’ took him for the first time to the border region between Kazakhstan and China for his graduation project Granitsa. In Granitsa, the Russian word for border, he focuses on a specific area that is marked by a new railway line that connects East to West and puts Kazakhstan on the map as the ‘gateway to Europe’. The photographer’s central question is whether this new Silk Road merely serves to channel wealth between East and West, or whether it can also be a positive development for the countries it crosses.

Thys’ images were made with an analogue medium format camera that forces a slow work process. This not only gave him the space to carefully build up his images, but also created the time needed to make contact with the landscape and its inhabitants. A random encounter with the guard of his hotel, who then became his friend and guide, was essential for Thys to really explore the landscape and its inhabitants. This enabled him to document the relationship between the intimate lives of the railway workers and the aggressive Chinese industry.

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  • Road to China

  • Village for the employees of the national Kazakh railway line (KZT). This track provides the link between Europe and China. Freight trains from China come along this track. The employees are each assigned a terraced house where they can live for free.

  • Ahmed and Diana

  • Almaly is the last village on the way to China. It is a small farmers village where they produce and sell corn.

  • Kazakhstan is planning to capitalize on the activity in the border area by building an immense new city. The village called Nurkent is a sleepy development of one- and two-story homes near the border that houses the families of railroad workers and border guards. This statue was placed by the former President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev. The mystical statue stands for the prosperity of Kazakhstan now and in the future.

  • On the way to China, the landscape changed from mountains to steppe, from steppe to canyons, from canyons to desert. The area is located in one of the most desolated places on the eurasian continent.

  • Max is sitting on his couch with his newborn in hand. He is a middle aged man living in Zharkent. Zharkent is a city with +- 33000 inhabitants. It is located 30km from the border with China. Max lives off selling videogames he buys in a bigger city 300 km away.

  • Bektien and Nurlan are watching the inauguration of the new President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev. He is the second president since the independence of Kazakhstan in 1991.

  • Pumba and duck

  • Highway connecting Kazakhstan with China

  • Bektien looks over my schouder to the border city ‘Khorgos’ in China. The city is surrounded by endless desolated steppe.

  • The gateway on the border from Kazakhstan with China is called the gate between the East and the West. The freight trains coming from China pass Kazakhstan on their way to Europe. The border zone is an important part on the New Silk Road.

  • Kundyzdy station

  • Kazakh Yurt transformed into a commercial souvenir shop. The shop is situated on the Kazakh side of the International center for border cooperation or ICBC. The ICBC is a special duty-free and visa-free shopping center which is set up in the desolated land between the 2 countries.

  • Empty passenger train

  • Nur Zholy Checkpoint

  • The dystopian city of Khorgos (Chinese side).

  • Kazbek and Altynai

  • Kazbek

  • This picture gives an idea of the surroundings of the new artificial city of Khorgos (ICBC). It is surrounded with hundreds of kilometers of empty deserted steppe. It is alerting that China is changing the future in a place so far away from everything.

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