Uyghur Photo Essay, by Brett Elmer
I was recently contacted by Brett as he had some work that he wanted to share with me. I was very impressed with his project and Brett agreed to be interviewed for JCH. Come and look at this fascinating social documentary that covers a largely ignored issue.
Hi Brett, tell us about yourself…
I’m from Perth, Western Australia, but currently based in Hong Kong, where I teach, work on my PhD thesis and take photos. I’ve recently begun a photography project related to my research, a project which I hope to grow over the time of my thesis, and that reflects the analysis and research I’m conducting. The project is related to Chinese government policies enacted to hasten the assimilation of the Uyghur minority of China’s north-west Xinjiang province, with the greater Chinese state. Here is a summary of the first stage of this project, my apologies if it’s too long-winded –
The Demolition of Uyghur Culture
On July 25 this year, Uyghur Democracy Leader, Rebiya Kadeer, testified in front of the U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs, detailing ongoing human rights abuses against, and increased repression of, the Uyghur people of Xinjiang, China since the 2009 Urumqi riots.
According to Ms. Kadeer, as well as employing intimidatory security measures, such as mass arrests, swift judicial proceedings and sentencing a number of Uyghurs to death, Chinese authorities have employed stronger government policies in the region in an attempt to crush Uyghur culture and speed up their assimilation with the greater Chinese state.
Whilst authorities continue to target the religious freedom of Uyghurs, one major physical manifestation of the Uyghur cultural genocide is the demolishing of Uyghur neighbourhoods, a practice which continues at pace across Xinjiang, but most notably in the city of Kashgar. According to Ms. Kadeer, “this ‘no choice’ destruction of centuries old Uyghur architecture and heritage has a human cost too, as relocated Uyghurs are inadequately compensated and housed in flimsy, but heavily monitored, apartment blocks far from city centres.”
These photos were taken across Xinjiang, and are an effort to increase awareness of, and interest in, the Uyghur people and the threat they face. If you want to know more, check out –
Rebiya Kadeer’s testimony – http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/112/HHRG-112-FA00-WState-KadeerR-20120725.pdf
Recent BBC article on Kashgar and the deomlition of Uyghur architecture – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-19264601
World Uyghur Congress – http://www.uyghurcongress.org/en/
The Uyghur American Association – http://uyghuramerican.org
Photographer: Brett Elmer
Camera – Epson R-D1s
Website – http://www.flickr.com/photos/elmerson/
Tell us, What pushes you to shoot?
I like making pictures. It’s fun.
How would you describe your style of photography?
Increasingly documentary street photography, black and white, artistic (slightly).
Do you have a method or system for when you are building a project?
This is the first time I’ve set down seriously and decided to build a project with a narrative to it. Narrative is crucial. Previously, when I would take photos of where I was living, or travelling, I would concentrate on simply trying to build a solid collection of what I thought were ‘decent’ shots, but with no real consistent narrative to them. I’m finding this new process much more rewarding, both personally and in terms of photo quality.
Are there any photographers that inspire you or influence your work?
Christopher Anderson and Sebastiao Salgado are two photographers I hold in very high esteem. I also really enjoy looking at images by Jacob Aue Sobol and Ying Tang (“sakura love” on Flickr).
Where would you like to see your photography develop in the future?
I want to develop a more documentary style to my photography, I think this will give me much more purpose when I’m making photographs. My Uyghur project is at the heart of this.
Do you have any upcoming projects that you would like to share with the readers of JCH?
Right now, I am focussing on how to further develop this project, trying to work out when I can get back to Xinjiang to make more photos. I’ve also been in touch with Uyghur diaspora groups in Europe, with a view to photographing Uyghurs making a life outside China.
Thanks to Brett for sharing this interesting and well thought out essay with us. It is something that I was only briefly aware of, I had no idea of the scale of what is going on there. I hope to see more of this as it develops.
Make sure you check out the links and please comment too.
Please remember that the images are reproduced with the kind permission of Brett Elmer and may not be used or reproduced without permission.