A sobering glimpse into China’s environmental degradation, matched with stirring photography of what’s threatened.
China’s rapid economic expansion in the past two decades has come at a cost. Air pollution in its major cities is ghastly, the building of dams has caused deadly floods, wetlands are disappearing, and deforestation has widened deserts in the center of the country. In short, China is a harrowing exemplar of the dangers of man-made climate change, though in writing about his travels, photographer Gallagher avoids heated rhetoric. His tone is generally cool as he writes about the diminishing fish stocks and erosion at a large but shrinking freshwater lake, semisuccessful efforts to save crocodiles and heavy bamboo cultivation, only lightly narrating his travels from his perspective. (A truck breakdown in the middle of the desert is as dramatic as the book gets.) Still, Gallagher’s photography is as vibrant as his prose is plainspoken. The book features dozens of images of colorful Tibetan prayer flags, algae-thick ponds, desolate and sand-strewn roadways, and endangered pandas. Much of the book is designed to provide teaching moments for photojournalists: Each of the four main chapters includes a virtual contact sheet of his images, with brief interactive commentaries about composition, and Gallagher also includes a few experiments with more low-resolution Instagram shots. Eight videos of about five minutes each, also shot by Gallagher, bolster the points made in the chapters, though they animate the story only slightly. He tends to favor lingering shots of landscapes and avoid portraiture. The overall feel of the interactive e-book is that of an effective if somewhat flat piece of extended newspaper reportage, and there’s an interesting but odd irony in that Gallagher’s rich photography is so rich and well-composed that the fragile environment he’s captured looks consistently beautiful.
Thoughtfully sounds an alarm, though not as loudly as it perhaps could.