Ian Teh | The Vanishing


30 JANUARY – 27 MARCH 2004

Photofusion is pleased to present the first showing of new work by the London based Malaysian born photographer Ian Teh, who has been documenting the building of the controversial Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China, which is the largest hydroelectric power project in the world, costing an estimated £14bn. Due for completion in 2009, the population of over a million people are being displaced by the Chinese government and Teh’s photographs build a fascinating story of the plight of the people whose lives are being affected.

Ian Teh

Ian Teh has worked in many countries including Brazil, Cuba, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, China, USA, Mexico and Europe and has been represented by Vu agency in Paris since 2001. In 1993 he was Time Out Photographer of the Year and has won numerous awards including the Joop World Press Masterclass in 2001. Alongside exhibiting in Europe, his work has been commissioned by and represented in various publications including Independent Magazine, Time Out, Guardian Weekend, Newsweek, Creative Review, Eye and The Sunday Times.

The Vanishing: Altered Landscapes and Displaced Lives on the Yangtze River is a documentation of the recent transformation to China’s Yangtze River made by the construction of the giant Three Gorges Dam. This project, first conceived by Mao in the 1970s and due for completion in 2009, is one of superlatives. The dam will be 185m tall and 2km long. Behind its vast walls, a reservoir will stretch over 650 kilometres to the port of Chongqing, forming the biggest artificial lake in the world.

China is a nation whose leaders have always reached for the grand vision. When the Chinese flood the famous Three Gorges with thirty-nine billion cubic metres of water, thirteen cities, 400 towns and 1,352 villages will be submerged. As a result, two million people will eventually lose their homes and in return, the Chinese are promised a 10 per cent increase in energy supply and an end to the deadly floods that regularly threaten millions of lives.

Ian Teh

The project has an increasing number of opponents, many of whom argue that the dam is not financially viable; that it is being poorly constructed and that it threatens the ecology of the region. Some experts believe it may even trigger earthquakes. But the overriding concern is for the fate of the millions of people who are to be displaced and relocated.

Teh’s photo essay, The Vanishing: Altered Landscapes and Displaced Lives on the Yangtze River, travels 700 kilometres from Chongqing in the west to Sandouping in the east, focussing on the lives of those effected by the dam and the landscape that will eventually be submerged forever. It documents the virtual ghost towns, inhabited by a handful of families left temporarily destitute by local corruption and an inadequate resettlement programme. Teh follows some of the ever-growing floating population of 150 million, many of whom migrate to the cities of the Eastern seaboard in search of a brighter future and the prospect of higher paid work in the factories. It shows the exodus from old towns and cities to new accommodation specially constructed as part of the worlds most ambitious resettlement programme.

The Vanishing: Altered Landscapes and Displaced Lives on the Yangtze River also highlights the gradual, dramatic transformation of these once vibrant places into broken communities, uncertain what the future holds as the last vestiges of river life are played out along the historical Three Gorges.