Chen Jiagang's new large-format photographs depict a world of industrial dislocation with eerie formal power. The title of the exhibition refers to China's policy in the 1960s of building enormous factories that soon became the centers for entire cities of workers. As the country's priorities changed in the 1980s, these facilities were most abandoned, leaving vast concrete wastelands.
Chen shows us the evidence of forced migration, from crumbling dormitories built for laborers to empty mills swept with fog. His work suits our age, where the unintended consequences of the global economy are usually kept out of sight.
The photographs are taken with long exposures to create deep tones of muted grays and slate blues that contrast with the blur crowds flickering past the camera. But Chen isn't content to merely remind us of the hidden costs of an interconnected world- he adds a personal element through the use of three recurring female models. As people stream by on a crowded street in The Great Third Front #4, the trio stands perfectly still beneath a striped awning, looking directly into the camera as if possessing secrets we're not meant to known.
Other images are more spare, with our heroines posed in empty courtyards or dwarfed beneath enormous machines; one depicts a solitary woman at the side of a polluted canal. What we've left with are scenes where even the dark side of commerce cannot entirely restrain beauty. -David Coggins