Monochrome slice-of-life photographs of the westernmost province of China and the easternmost stretch of the Turkic diaspora.
Noted adventurer and photographer Pyle (The Middle Kingdom Ride, 2013) had long felt drawn from a Western perspective to one of the remotest places on Earth: Chinese Turkestan. Long the home of the Uyghur people, a branch of the Turkic-speaking culture that spans the continent of Asia to the Mediterranean, it’s also a region that’s politically fraught. The native Uyghur, increasingly displaced by Han Chinese, hold fast to their national identity even as the government of China directs their lives and rebuilds houses and streets around them. But the photographer steers clear of politics in this book; “as the project evolved,” he explains in his introduction, “it developed a softer, more personal focus.” He shows hardworking Uyghur baking new bricks, but readers don’t learn how Beijing will put these bricks to use. Meanwhile, in Kashgar, metalworkers beat blades into knives and spoons, and village men inspect birds they’re about to send into the cockfighting ring. In the center of Khotan, a boy plays in the middle of a construction site; bareheaded women pass through city streets alongside women in full niqab; and men wearing white ceremonial robes over heavy coats dance to celebrate the end of Ramadan outside the Id Kah Mosque. It’s a herding and ranching culture, so alive and dead sheep, goats, and the odd cow feature in the photos, and it’s clear that for them, this isn’t a happy place. “Behind every face there is a personal story,” Pyle writes, and his many pictures certainly provide the proof. Readers will feel as though they can smell the cooking nang, hear the bleats of the animals, and feel the dryness of the air. The layout of the book, however, is somewhat problematic: faces are often cut in two by their placement along the volume’s spine. That said, the faces that readers do see feel entirely real.
An empathetic, smartly composed journey through a changing land.