Wang Lu returned to her hometown in China in 2019 for the first time in years. In the time since her leaving, she felt she had changed. And yet, as it must be for those who have traveled far from the start, the thought of a return home fills the head and heart with memories—familiar streets, smells and sites. Reminders that they are, in fact, from somewhere. When Wang Lu arrived back in her hometown, she found some things as they were, and some forever changed.
When she was twelve years old, Wang Lu was in a horrific car accident with her father. She recovered, but her father sustained terminal brain damage. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, his memory suffered most and his recollection of his daughter became stuck in time. “In my father’s mind, I might always remain a student attending a primary school in my hometown,” she writes about their relationship. Inside her father’s home, time seems to have stood still. Faded wallpaper covers the bedroom walls, and old dishes and tableware scatter the kitchen.
Outside the window of her parents’ apartment a changing cityscape arises in opposition to her father’s memory. Under a new mayor, the city is experiencing rapid urbanization and in Frozen Are the Winds of Time, Wang Lu moves through her hometown observing a city in the process of becoming a new self. “My perception of my hometown [has] become stranger and stranger,” she says. “Especially when the old streets and buildings were replaced, my memory becomes more and more blurred.” Construction is everywhere, young trees line parks and walkways, and glossy billboards promise a new and better future.
In spite of the emergence of a new cityscape, Wang Lu found that, like her father’s memory, the people in her town had also remained unchanged. It seemed the implicit message of progress, that of a way forward best realized through technology and development, had not affected the mindset and habits of the cities’ residents. “No matter how much the city has changed, the people who live in my hometown, their time seems to stand still, the same as I remember from my childhood,” she observes. “The wind of time keeps blowing, but it doesn’t change anything.”
For Wang Lu, who now lives in Tokyo, the project of trying to capture the invisible mannerisms of time is ongoing; she plans to continue documenting her father and her changing hometown.
Editor’s note: Wang Lu’s work was discovered in the LensCulture Critics Choice Award 2020, where it was selected by Michael Famighetti, editor of Aperture magazine. For more inspiring work, check out the rest of the winners!