I was born in Xinjiang, a vast area located in northwest China. It used to be known as the Western Region for thousands of years, and is now inhabited by dozens of different ethnic groups. In Mandarin, ‘”Jiang Nan” directly refers to the south of Xinjiang, which is the area where these photos were taken.

Stretching across more than 2000 km, the Tarim River begins at its source: the ice mountain in the west. After its branches converge, she runs across the great Taklimakan Desert from west to east, flowing into the Taitema Lake. She is the life source for those living in Southern Xinjiang, and has nourished different groups of people and their civilizations generation after generation.

Unity Square, Hotan. March, 2017. © Boyuan Zhang (博原 张), Winner, LensCulture Emerging Talent Awards 2017

However, since the Lop people, Daolang people, and Keliya people were “discovered” by Sven Hedding in the 1890s, they have gradually abandoned their traditional fishing lifestyle. The languages Uigur and Mandarin spread swiftly among the inhabitants, proving indispensable for them to make a living in other cities and towns. Although the villages have also been able to access electricity, it is the asphalt road that truly embodies the narrative of moving and traveling in pursuit of a better life.

I was born and raised in Xinjiang, but I am also a descendant of Han “immigrants.” I want to make this place my homeland, and I use photography to engrave its scenes on film as well as on my heart.

—Boyuan Zhang

This project was singled out as one of jury’s favorites from the Emerging Talent Awards 2017. Discover all the other inspiring projects from this year’s 50 talents!