China Between
Project info

China Between is a photographic essay on the modern city culture of contemporary China. When the Peoples’ Republic set up its Special Economic Zones in the 1980s communist China entered into global trade and international capital. The goal was financial but new money also brought new values and new ways of life. Polly Braden’s photography is an intimate response to the material and psychological effects of the changes experienced by the country’s new urban class. Shot over three years in Shanghai, Xiamen, Shenzhen and Kunming, China Between is a revelatory portrait. Braden shows how a casual glance, a moment of doubt or a quick trip to the shopping mall can tell us as much about modern China as any image of a dam, a protest or a teeming workforce.

It was in the mid-1990s while she was living in the town of Yangzhou (where Mao was born) that Polly Braden first took up photography. Making sense of the camera and making sense of China have gone hand in hand. Since then she has amassed a huge archive of images, some made on assignment for magazines but most made speculatively. Although there have been plenty of great shots along the way China Between is not simply a collection of extraordinary images. It has taken most of those years to find the right photographic approach and the majority of images presented here were made in the last three years. What she was trying to discover, without fully knowing it for a long while, was a form of observing, shooting and editing that might express the complicated relation between everyday life in China’s burgeoning cities and the great transformations that have been taking place there.

— David Campany, writer and curator

These photographs are at once anthropological documents and a personal travelogue; a series of intimate portraits and, more generally, studies of a country undergoing a massive transition from a predominantly agrarian to an urban culture.

— Jennifer Higgie, editor of Frieze magazine