Friday, February 20, 2015

Ryan Pyle's "Chinese Turkestan": Book Review

Ryan Pyle, an award-winning Canadian photographer who travels around and beyond his adapted Chinese home, presents a look at Xinjiang, for which he favors the old Chinese Turkestan title as better suited to its cultural diversity. In his short preface, he notes he does not want to "pontificate," but to present the modernization of this land by the Chinese with minimal commentary. That he does, in spare captions.

The paucity of background beyond the helpful introduction makes the reader turn viewer. Pyle places the captions a few pages away from the black and white photos. This has the advantage of allowing you to sink deeper into them, but the small red typeface (as well as the bright red binding and trim) do jolt you a bit.

Some photos benefit from the two-page layout, but this book is smaller in size than the coffee-table format I anticipated. (I was asked to review it.) Many, over half, document  the fast-changing main city of Kashgar, some in Khotan, and then they roam to the borderlands and wilder places. Fields and desert take over.

I expected more on the desolate Tian Shan mountains, but there is little coverage of the higher places. Most of Pyle's spare images show people, in factories, mills, streets, on paths, and among farms. He keeps the focus on them rather than natural landscapes, as he tries to give us a sense of its inhabitants.

This is welcome for its depiction of a place few of us may know beyond its ancient Silk Road aura. The reality as the Chinese regime changes this place and exploits its resources and imports its Han into a traditionally Muslim and Buddhist enclave must be interpreted. For, these are often minimalist portrayals. Author's site. 
Amazon US 2-6-15

No comments: