China Emptiness | Colleen MacDonald

I became obsessed with emptiness. Trying to find a moment to photograph the absence of people, noise and confusion. I felt strange in China, caught in a weird dichotomy of being consistently surrounded by people, yet experiencing some of the most acute loneliness I have ever felt. I would run at 5AM, seeking out the companionship of exercise and lack of people. Yet even at 5AM, there were flocks of E-bike riding fisherman, still drunk prostitutes, old grannies in house slippers, and families on picnics. I didn’t have in place a coping mechanism for this. So I stopped taking photos of people and started to find emptiness. It became a challenge, a game, a pursuit that had me often looking up towards the sky and waiting awkwardly near buildings.

When I arrived back in the states, I finally had a chance to look though my film. I never thought any of the photos I took were particularly amazing, nor did they fit in the neat box of over-romanticized ancient China. Sorting through the images, I could see my thought behind each one, and remember the near-desperation of some of the frames. I wanted something clean, and empty. The emptiness was a relief, something very defined. It never actually relieved the loneliness inside – that is far too complicated a mission for photography to achieve.

Photo 1. West Lake, Hangzhou


Photo 2. Similar to an old photo I found in a junk shop


Photo 3. Suzhou, (not the canals), China


Photo 4. Apartment complex, Hangzhou, China


The hidden, derelict and marginalized attract her; with a desire for adrenaline rushes and a love of heights, Colleen MacDonald has photographed everything from abandoned highrises in Detroit to Particle Colliders in Russia. With an eye for portraits, a belief that everyone has a story, and a love of drains, she has been wandering through foreign countries since 2007. Accused of being a spy, a prostitute and a missionary; having repelled down elevator shafts, been caught up in political protests and nearly arrested, she has developed a fearless approch to photography seeking out the moments both violent and peaceful that give life meaning.

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