Liao Liqiang remembers when he first began exploring Chongqing, the Chinese megacity where he was born and raised, as a photographer.
He started seeing the city in a different light and recognized the elements that made it special. He was rediscovering the city he had called home, and it was then that Liao committed himself to capturing the hidden corners of Chongqing before they disappeared to make way for development.
“I choose subjects that can’t really be found in other cities,” he says, “things that you can only find in Chongqing.”
Liao’s photographs are a mix of urban landscapes and intimate portraits of the people who live in Chongqing. His work captures the scale and paradoxes of a city undergoing rapid development.
Winding highways rest on stilts over leafy mountains. Skyscrapers tower over neighborhoods slated for demolition. From above, humans appear as ants among the architectural marvels they’ve created.
But if Liao’s landscapes are meant to demonstrate Chongqing’s unabashed pursuit of modernization at all costs, then his portraits show a population still trying to hold onto some of its humanity.
On the ground, retirees huddle in the hallways of cement buildings to play cards. A mother peels fruit beside an old tree in a scene that appears at odds with the urban narrative that Liao’s landscapes tell.
This is the great contradiction of Chongqing and other Chinese cities like it. There is a constant tug of war between nostalgia and modernity. The country is rapidly changing, but not everyone can keep up.
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In Chongqing’s downtown, which sits at the confluence of two rivers, pristine skyscrapers have replaced many of the low-rise buildings that once dotted the riverbank.
Over the years, the government has been encouraging residents to clear out of older neighborhoods and tearing down houses one by one to build more skyscrapers.
For Liao, who spends his time documenting these old neighborhoods, development is just a fact of life. His job, he says, is just to record the change.
“I like the city becoming more and more modern,” he says, “because the city is getting better, and it will make life more convenient.”
You can find more of Liao’s work on Instagram @liqiang.liao.