I recently had the chance to go back to Beijing, where six years ago I spent almost a year photographing. The project that came out of that year was about Beijing’s rapid growth. I arrived in Beijing at the end of the 2008 Olympic Games. At the time the city was in a dramatic flux with many new buildings being erected for the Games. The impetus to renovate and reimagine Beijing as a modern global city meant that large swathes of the urban landscape remained under construction for the duration of my stay. At the same time there was a global obsession with China, that brought with it a very vibrant expat community. The Games had served as a kind of coming out party for China, and there was an enormous amount of excitement and optimism for the future, both within and outside the country.
This time around I arrived in Beijing a week before the APEC summit. One of the biggest contrasts was the sheer amount of air pollution this time around. As China prepared for the Olympic Games much of the industry surrounding Beijing was shut down or relocated to present a clean city to the world. By the time I left, the pollution levels had started to creep back up, but nowhere near where it was this time around. Days were gray with a yellowish cast, and the use of face masks was fairly widespread. However, by the end of the week, just like before the Games, the air started to clear up as factories closed down for the APEC summit.
Overall much has changed, and although construction cranes are not as ubiquitous as they once were, the city is still going through a renewal process. However, it no longer feels as vertiginous as it once did. I also saw this reflected in the people I met, both expats and Chinese. Unbridled optimism was substituted with a more cautious pragmatism about China’s future.
Here is a short term project I shot during my week in Beijing. I tried to keep the point of views as close to the originals as possible to try and see how these places had changed. I was surprised by how much some places changed and how much others remained the same. Beyond all, things looked more lived in and somewhat more organized, but a lot of the sheen of newness was gone. You can see the rest of the original pictures here.