Philipp Scholz Ritterman

By MARK FELDMAN

China’s Grand Canal, the longest artificial river in the world at over 1,000 miles, organizes and animates Philipp Scholz Ritterman’s fascinating and eclectic photo series “Emperor’s River.” The Grand Canal (also called the Emperor’s River) is hundreds of years old, runs north-south, while China’s major rivers run east-west, and has long been an important transport artery for rice and other goods. This slow flowing waterway unifies Ritterman’s panoramic, large-format color photographs of contemporary China.

The best of these photos are strange and dense and seem to uneasily combine multiple times. They offer a meditation on contemporary China that moves beyond the visual clichés of immensity, rapid change, and extremes of wealth. Those are present, but so too is a more complicated and uneasy understanding of history and time along with an attention to people and the pleasures of everyday life that is often lacking from such photographs (here I’m thinking of such work by Edward Burtynsky and Michael Wolf).

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