The Chinese Dream
For nearly forty years, Reagan Louie (born in 1951, San Francisco, USA) has photographed in China, creating an unprecedented chronicle and dramatic portrayal of the country’s profound transformation. More than a document, the work is composed of overlapping narratives – a personal odyssey, a chronicle of modernization, and a meditation on art and representation.
In 1980, Louie began a romantic journey to discover “Old China” and to find his ancestral roots. But, struck by the changes sweeping across China, he started another quest to bear witness to the country’s radical evolution. Over the years, Louie traveled to all of China’s provinces and major cities. He often returned to places to record the changes to the landscape and to show the impact on its people. The color photographs are structured into four eras that move between the old and the new. Each era has a meme that underscores the tension between tradition and modernity.
China was shaking off the paralysis of the Cultural Revolution in the 1980’s. This era depicts the tentative growth and opening of Chinese society to the outside world. Modernity rapidly took hold in the 1990’s. With the Handover of Hong Kong, China was well on its way to becoming a super power. In 2008, China fully ascended the global stage with the Beijing Olympics and the changes it brought to the entire country.
Now, with a changing economy predicated on mass migrations to new consumer cities, construction of strategic artificial islands, emboldened propaganda campaigns and censorship, China has embarked on yet another phase of nationalism. This era explores the effects of globalism and the digital age on China, with a particular focus on the attitudes and behavior of millennials. Armed with smart phones and social media, they and every citizen now have the capacity to push back and show a truer picture of their society.
Louie’s photography, candid, impromptu, and filled with ambiguity is aligned with this ambition of showing a more complex and nuanced picture of contemporary China. The Chinese, weaned on government sanctioned, fabricated and didactic images are deeply suspicious of this type of un-staged photography. His photographs of quotidian, everyday life stand in sharp contrast to the visual propaganda of the state.
“The Chinese Dream” represents a compelling vision of two journeys both personal and epic.