Erica McDonald’s “The Dark Light of This Nothing”

Erica McDonald wrote in a while back. I’ve been a fan of her work for a long time, having first met her through lightstalkers, and hoped she might have a project to share. The selection she sent back, from “The Dark Light of This Nothing” is a beautiful portrait of Brooklyn, both timeless and very much of this moment, a look into what rapidly changing socioeconomics means for the city and, by extension, the country. Here’s what McDonald writes about the project:

Janet: Hi Erica..(kiss)

Erica McDonald [EM]: Hi, Where’s Adele?

Janet: Adele’s inside..Erica, this is my family, that’s uh..Donny, my sister in law, Sharon, Angie…David and that’s my brother John..

EM: You’ve got a good memory.

Janet: I’ve got a good memory, I have 38 nieces and nephews, I have to..this is just a little quarter of it.

EM: I’m trying to get people to talk about what the neighborhood was like and what it is like now and..

Janet: You want some dessert? Steven would know that, my husband would know that, and so would Mary.

EM: No thanks, I’m okay. Yeah, Mary was just talking to me a little.

Anthony: I wasn’t born here..I don’t know anything..

Remember Old Kashgar by M. Scott Brauer

One of the world’s oldest cities, Kashgar serves as both the spiritual and political capital of traditional Uighur culture.  Since 1949, the modern People’s Republic of China has exerted strong control over the region, and Kashgar has been particularly hard hit.  Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, a province covering 1/6th of China’s territory holds a majority of the country’s oil and gas reserves.  Long at odds with the Uighurs’ sometimes bloody quest for independence, the Chinese government has insituted a program of subsidized migration and settlement in the area by Han majority Chinese.  In so doing, the government hopes to develop a stable and robust economy whose purpose is the exploitation of the region’s natural resources and to overwhelm the local ethnicities.  Whereas the Uighur population of Kashgar was previously as high as 90%, government settlement efforts have changed the city’s demographics to less than 70% Uighur, and the percentage is still dropping.

At the heart of Kashgar is the so-called Old City.  Of tremendous historical value, the twisting alleyways and haphazardly built houses clump together and spring out of the city’s terrain in an organic and natural way.  After sporadic uprisings and fighting between Uighurs and Hans, the Beijing-controlled municipal government has unveiled plans to completely renovate the Old City. Uighur families who’ve lived in the same location for, in some cases, hundreds of years will be uprooted and resettled in cookie cutter apartment blocks built according to contemporary Chinese building standards.  Notwithstanding the individual upheaval of this process, the redevelopment of central Kashgar will radically transform the nature of daily life in the Uighur community.  The alleyways of the Old City create a naturally closed and safe neighborhood structure in which children can play and neighbors interact without fear of outsiders or traffic.  These alleyways also lead to central streets, arteries for the community on which Uighur-owned businesses thrive.  All of this will change as the government imposes redevelopment on the Old City, though not everyone is convinced the change will be bad.

In his home not far from the Grand Bazaar, 60-year-old Mohmat* cries as he describes his life.  Hans moving into the area have taken his job and his house is soon to be demolished.  Unable to afford medicine, he smokes marijuana to relieve the pain in his liver and legs.  Pages of the Koran hang on the walls of his bedroom.  At once blaming China’s central government for his problems, he also sees some sense in the policies.  His house has no plumbing and little electricity.  With the new apartment buildings, his family would enjoy a marked improvement in their quality of life.  Still, without a more systemic overhaul of city and state policies, and clear protection for Uighur employment and religion, he sees the development of the Old City as a small step toward much needed reform in Kashgar.

Others are more optimistic.  On a bus from Kashgar to Hotan, a man named Askar* approaches me.  A Uighur living in Urumqi, the provincial capital, his english is great and he’s eager to talk.  “I am hopeful,” he says of the future of Xinjiang.  He worries about the transformation of Kashgar, but sees it as a necessary step in the progress of the region.  His own life has changed dramatically, too.  His first career was working as a newspaper journalist, but it felt to him like a deadend job.  He spent hours upon hours teaching himself english in libraries and has been an Amway representative for the past year or two.  Amway, of course, being the multi-level marketing scheme made popular in the US in the 1970s.  “I will be the president [of Amway] in 7 years,” he exclaims hopefully.  His trip to Kashgar and Hotan, in fact, was to set up more Amway franchises.  The business, he tells me, is an exciting opportunity, a way to live the American dream in a place that couldn’t be more different from the suburbs where Amway was made popular.  The promise of a better of life offered by the company, and which is never achieved by the overwhelming majority of Amway representatives, provides Askar with a goal far removed from the problems facing Kashgar and the Uighurs.

More photos from this story are available for license at M. Scott Brauer’s archive.

*only first name given over concern for safety

Introducing the new

We’re starting off the new year with a bang here at dvafoto. If you’re reading through the rss feeds, pop on over to the real deal to see the excitement. In addition to some exciting upcoming posts, we’ve completely redesigned the site.

You’ll notice the overall visual changes first. While the old site (image 2 in the slideshow above) was good enough, it was a stock wordpress template and has been popping up all over the place of late. It was cluttered, didn’t utilize the full width of modern computers, and was beginning to look dated. Mostly, I was just tired of it and thought I could do something that fit our visual content better. We also wanted a way to highlight posts from our archive.

Blogging is inherently a medium controlled by time, and that prevents old content from being newly discovered, regardless of whether it’s still relevant and interesting. Central to the new design, but hopefully not obtrusive to the site’s core purpose, we’ve added boxes with a random selection of photos and posts from our archive. You’ll see a couple such boxes in the main content flow on the front page, there’s one at the bottom of every individual post page, including this one, and there’s one on our 404 error page.

We’ve also incorporated Lens Blog-inspired image galleries, as you’ll see at the top of this post, in upcoming posts, and in a few in the archive, such as this post of my photos from the Rocky Boy Powwow in Montana. Rather than using a flash solution for the galleries, I integrated a jquery tool called Scrollable to use the customized rewrite of the existing wordpress gallery functionality. The result is a google-friendly sliding photo gallery easily managed in wordpress.