As a self-proclaimed brilliant businessman once lectured me, “the entire world is becoming global.” Equally insightful (or not), small signs demonstrating humanity’s universality are clearly everywhere – and in China’s Jiangsu province, there are likely more than most anywhere else, certainly per square meter.
Once again the headlines and catch lines used by the world’s media often overlook the underlying character of the population. The Jiangsu province, on the country’s eastern coast, is actually one of the smallest geographically, but the most densely populated, thanks in no small part to its proximity to Shanghai and its success as China’s most economically active region, with its per capita GDP the highest of any province. While the statistics are impressive – Jiangsu’s aggregate GDP is more than half the size of India’s – such data all too easily fits the common narrative of a modernizing country, awakening giant, capitalist growth within communist context.
Photographers don’t directly record such statistics, but instead – sometimes explicitly, sometimes more subtly – draw trends or social commentary through the grey shades of an image. When traveling through Jiangsu, the theme that kept surfacing was not the rapidity of change, but instead the consistency of the individual’s behavior: the second floor delivery on a busy day, hot tea eggs waiting for buyers, the plush-soft dog’s apprehension when awaiting a new home, cooks filling their stomachs to re-energize before a busy meal period, a proud father showing his first son, a protective mother feeding her son on the way home from school.
While it is true – in the words of a Chinese proverb – that experience is a comb that we receive just when we are going bald, Susan Sontag insightfully related life’s evolution to the permanence of the photographic image:
“All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.”
– Aaron C. Greenman
Aaron C. Greenman has been a photographer for over 25 years and has lived and worked on four continents. He has previously been profiled on The Leica Camera Blog for his work in Japan, Thailand, India, East Africa, Israel, Turkey, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Russia, and Western Europe. More of his portfolio images can be viewed on his website, and he has several books available for the iPad (here and here). Custom prints of his work are also available for purchase on request.