What is left to photograph in a city like Beijing, where millions of tourists take snapshots every year and nearly everyone carries a smartphone equipped with a camera? Much, if one is interested in Héctor Peinador’s photographic exhibition, ‘End of Line: an Archeology of Silence.’
The 33 images taken by Mr. Peinador, a Spanish architect and freelance photographer currently based in Beijing, portray a very different city from the one that usually appears in advertisements and tourists’ guidebooks.
One image captures a seemingly endlessrailway line running through dilapidated buildings. Litter masks the soil as a person walks along the tracks in the distance. In another, a group of people play games on two tables in an underpass. Not such an exceptional sight in Beijing, perhaps, but certainly a striking counterbalance to the images of glistening new buildings, whitewashed shopping malls and Audis zooming through the streets.
Peinador’s work sheds light on a parallel, as yet undeveloped city which, despite its status as an integral part of Beijing, is often forgotten amid the infatuation for China’s economic rise. In doing so, the exhibition serves as a reminder of the country’s contradictions: China may be a superpower in the making, but its capital city is still home to scores of workers who have to toil hard for a living and can only afford to stay in the most humble of dwellings – at times, a bedroom shared with tens of others.
The element which connects the various pieces is the fact that all the pictures were taken at the end of subway lines, which lead from the city center toward the periphery, and, in some cases, directly to rural fields.
“I took pictures at the end of subway lines,” the author told the Asian Correspondent, “Because the areas that are not reached by the subway are very different. The subway somehow draws a limit to the urban space.” “How do people live in these transitional spaces [the end of subway lines]? What do they do? ” he wondered.
“In the periphery are borders that hide from us the places we cannot see — the places no one ever shows us,” commented in an email interview Susana Sanz Giménez, a friend of Mr. Peinador and curator of the ‘End of Line’ exhibition.
According to her, “This work is a journey that leads us through the veins of the ruined ‘body’ that is Beijing — a trip from the heart of this twenty-first-century phantasmagorical capital to its outskirts, and the very extremities of its metro system, the starting point from which millions of Chinese citizens commute to work downtown, and where they ultimately survive.”
Not everyone was satisfied with the work. Some locals have expressed the opinion that it would be better for a photographer to focus on the beautiful aspects of the country rather than looking for the gritty, impoverished ones. Mr. Peinador told us he doesn’t mind. From his point of view, the exhibition was a success: “I am very, very happy. Most people understood what I was trying to do: I just wanted to portray landscapes”.
The work is still in progress, said Ms. Sanz: “We are thinking of moving the exhibition to other art spaces in China and perhaps in Spain. This is an ongoing project.” This would be a good thing; Beijing is a city of many faces, and they all deserve to be shown to and, hopefully, understood by the public.