Until the 1980s, Linfena city in Shanxi province, eastern China, was the centre of a flourishing farming hinterland, famous for its fruit and flower plantations and high-yield harvests. But, like other great swathes of China's rural interior over the past 25 years, the once-blooming countryside has been ravaged by the state's rapid march of industrialisation, and Linfen is now one of the most polluted cities in the world.
Which is what led the photographer Ian Teh to document the area in a project called "Traces", a series of beautiful yet devastating portraits of the country's industrialisation. And yet, he insists, "I didn't want these pictures to be a stark, direct condemnation of what was going on. I rather wanted to depict the simple, harsh beauty of these scenes."
And so we see, right, a desolate shot of a cement plant near the city centre, mounds of coal stretching out towards a brutal trio of smokestacks. And, above, a bleak, wintry shot of farmland on the outskirts of Linfen; trees stripped of life, evoking a different sort of empty beauty. For a closer inspection of the farmland shows a tainted landscape: the detritus of bricks and dumped building material which, according to Teh, "hint at the environmental cost of fulfilling China's economic material desires".
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