Mountains and rivers are very significant for the Chinese people. In this country, there is a cultural awareness that says mountains are “virtuous” and rivers are “moral.”

I was inspired to carry out this project after reading the novel Rivers of the North by Zhang Chengzhi. The book is written in a stream-of-consciousness style and its story follows the paths of many rivers across China. Attracted by the powerful words of the novel, I decided to take a walk along the Yellow River in order to find the root of my soul. Along the way, the calm flow of my mind became flooded with the hectic thoughts and ceaseless stream of reality. I felt a profound pessimism.

Nevertheless, as a vast country with a long history, China’s future is always bright. The country has food for its people and the power of creation that can cultivate strong citizens. From this point of view, it seems, the future is optimistic.

Trying to balance these two sides, my new work explores the landscapes of China, capturing the ecology of its magnificent natural phenomena. The tiny human figures, insignificant when set against the vast natural forms, are inspired by Chinese artistic tradition. My aim is to create a modern point of contact for our contemporary and sociologically concerned eye.

—Zhang Kechun

Editors’ note: Kechun’s project Between the Mountains and Water was a finalist in the Magnum Photography Awards 2017. Read our full article on the project and discover more inspiring work from all 41 of the winners, finalists, and jurors’ picks.

If you’d like to see more work like this, we’d recommend the following articles: Mother River, a project that journeys the 6,200km length of the Yangtze River; Yangtze: The Long River, an award-winning landscape series by the celebrated portrait photographer Nadav Kander; and Full of Null, one of the world’s most populated beaches, captured here in its eerily silent off season.