Out West - PhMuseum

Out West

Patrick Wack

2016 - 2017

Xinjiang Uygur Zizhiqu, China

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang. Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered.

Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries. More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown.

Out West offers an experience of Xinjiang that highlights its estrangement from contemporary perceptions of the new China, accentuating undercurrents of tension and the mystique it has cultivated—whether in their minds or ours. At its core, Out West is a question of perspective: What is the West but the East to another?

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  • May 2016. Xinjiang province, China. View of road G314 in China, aka the Karakoram highway, the road linking the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with Pakistan through the Pamir mountains. On the right is the Baishahu lake. A new road should be finished by 2017 to increase trade between the two countries.

  • May 2016. Xinjiang province, China. View of Baishahu lake on the itinerary of the road G314 in China, aka the Karakoram highway, the road linking the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with Pakistan through the Pamir mountains. A new road should be finished by 2017 to increase trade between the two countries.

  • May 2016. Xinjiang province, China. View of Baishahu lake and its dam. The lake is situated on the road G314 in China, aka the Karakoram highway, the road linking the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with Pakistan through the Pamir mountains. On the right is the Baishahu lake. A new road should be finished by 2017 to increase trade between the two countries.

  • December 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Half constructed and decaying palace hotel in the new development zone of the city of Turpan in Xinjiang.

  • December 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Old Han Chinese man photographed in the bedroom of his house. He is the guardian of a mine in the Taklmakan desert in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

  • December 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Oil exploration team from CNPC - China National Petroleum Corporation - operating in the Taklamakan desert in the province of Xinjiang. This team and a few others are setting up thousands of explosive charges for weeks at a time that are all detonated at sthe same time to detect oil fields.

  • November 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Landscape near the Lop Nur desert.

  • May 2016. Pharmacy clerk in a pharmacy in Kashgar.

  • May 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Travellers getting on and off the train to Hotan at the Kashgar railway station. This is the only railway linking the oasis towns south of the Taklamakan desert where most of Xinjiang's Uighur community in Xinjiang lives.

  • June 2016. Xinjiang province, China. On the road back from Turpan, a mostly Uighur oasis town, to Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, we stop for a rest and see these two young Uighur men taking a nap under a bridge while the summer heat is reaching its peak around mid-day.

  • May 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Ruins of the old city of Kashgar, mostly destroyed by the Chinese authorities in order to build a new version of this ancient silk road city. After the destruction of Kabul during the civil war, the old city of Kashgar was the only remaining ancient town of the silk road.

  • June 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Blindfolded statue of a Kazakh warrior on the road from Turpan back to Urumqi.

  • May 2016. Xinjiang province, China. View of Baishahu lake on the side of the Karakoram highway, the road linking the Chinese western province of Xinjiang with Pakistan. The road G314 in China, aka the Karakoram highway, the road linking the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with Pakistan through the Pamir mountains. On the right is the Baishahu lake. A new road should be finished by 2017 to increase trade between the two countries.

  • June 2016. Xinjiang province, China. A Han Chinese migrant worker fishing in a small lake in the outskirts of Turpan. In the background, a typical item of China's fast developping West, a half-built half-decaying palace or government building.

  • June 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Uighur man looking through the door of his house into the Turpan depression and Ayding lake. Ayding lake is a dried up lake in the Turpan Depression, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.. At 154 m below sea level, it is the lowest point in China. This lake is now totally dried, and very muddy and salty. This man is the guardian of the site and lives here all year long, mostly by himself with his two camels and one donkey, receiving food and water on a weekly basis. The Turpan Depression or Turfan Depression is a fault-bounded trough located around and south of the city-oasis of Turpan, in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region in far western China, about 150 kilometres (93 mi) southeast of the regional capital Ürümqi. It includes the fourth lowest exposed point on the Earth's surface, after the Dead Sea, the Sea of Galilee, and Lake Assal. It is entirely below sea level. By some measures, it is also the hottest and driest area in China during the summer.

  • May 2017. Xinjiang province, China. View of Sayram lake in northern Xinjiang. Han Chinese tourists posing for a group photo.

  • November 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Young Uighur-minority seasonal worker in the last days of the cotton harvest in Luntai county in between the cities of Korla and Kuqa, north of the Taklamakan desert. Luntai is a county in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is under the administration of the Bayin'gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture. Cotton is one of the largest agricultural industries in the province and many local Uighurs are used as cheap seasonal labour during the harvest.

  • May 2017. Xinjiang province, China. Han Chinese migrant worker from the East of China making a call overlooking new constructions in Altay, a county-level city in Ili Kazakh Autonomous Prefecture, in far northern Xinjiang, China. It is the administrative centre of Altay Prefecture, and has 142,000 inhabitants.

  • November 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Oil derrick at the Norther border of the Taklamakan desert in Luntai county in Xinjiang in between Korla and Kuqa, north of the Taklamakan desert. Luntai is a county in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is under the administration of the Bayin'gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture.

  • December 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Communist monument in Xinjiang on the road G312 to Hami (also called Kumul) driving from Gansu province.


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