The following is an excerpt from the introduction to CHANGSHA, the forthcoming photobook from Rian Dundon and Emphas.is Press.
I first went to China on a whim. I didn’t really know what I was getting into. It was 2005 and I was 24-years-old. I made a one-year commitment to stay in the country. In the end I stayed for six.
At first, when I didn’t speak the language, I would hang out in pool halls and practice counting balls in Chinese. I couldn’t talk but I knew how to play and I knew how to swap cigs with the hustlers and lookers-on. Later my Mandarin came and I could go to dinner with people or hit the karaoke clubs. Mr. Tian was a whiskey wholesaler and one of our first friends. His brother owned The Red East – a popular nightclub and karaoke house where I got my first taste of provincial nightlife with the bar’s cast of boozers, working girls, and off-duty cops. I photographed. During the day I moved through the city digesting what I saw. I began to develop an idea for the kind of pictures I wanted to make in China, but I knew it wouldn’t be possible in just one year. It was important that I avoid the typical images – the Mao posters and soldiers, the futuristic cityscapes – and remain true to an experience separate from politics. I wanted to make pictures that didn’t necessarily read as China. Personal photographs. Private photographs.