Jiang Jiehong / An Era Without Memories

I will be reflecting on professional ones throughout photobooks throughout my practice. This blog post will focus on Jiang Jiehong’s compilation, An Era Without Memories.  The work is divided into four chapters, capturing and documenting the large-scale urban transformation taking place in China.
an era of memories
Qiulin, C. The Empty City (2012)


Themes of memory, identity, and nationhood are evident throughout. I was particularly captivated, however, by the amount of different styles of photography featured. Through a compilation of images including black and white, documentary, natural landscape, and architectural, Jiehong constructs an incredibly interesting and complex narrative. I had previously thought that the most successful photobooks are those which focus on one style of photography, such as Robert Frank’s wonderful black and white History of Photography Series. Jiehong has shown me that there are no limits to creativity, and that innovation, creativity, and thinking differently should be encouraged.

‘Many streets and alleys that were home, many buildings that were the familiar landmarks in mental maps, many street markets that were meeting places – so many triggers to memories – have been bulldozed and replaced with boulevards, covered markets and plazas. Cities have been built in and out of the rubble of buildings. Villages and towns absorbed by cities have been destroyed or changed beyond recognition…This is an era of destroyed memories in urban, but not in rural, China’ (Feuchtwang, in Jiehong, 2015: 10)

an era without memories
Fudong, Y. Seven Intellectuals in Bamboo Forest (2007)
an era without memories
Yi, Y. A Sunken Homeland, Nanjiao Residential Building, Kaixian (2007)
an era without memories
Qiulin, C. The Empty City (2012)


The division of the book into four chapters proves effective for the work within it. Organising the images in this way reinforces the narrative discussed above; this may be a useful method for my own photobook if I am to continue with my exploration of four themes within public toilets – latrinalia, surveillance, acceptance, and being female. This is something I will bear in mind, however I feel the result may be too simplistic if I were to imitate Jiehong’s structure. It is an excellent layout for addressing the complexities of China’s urbanisation, but perhaps not such an appropriate choice for my own work.

One feature I definitely want to incorporate into my own photobook, on the other hand, is the use of text. Jiehong features a foreword and afterword, written by himself, in addition to an introduction by Stephen Feuchtwang. In addition, the images are accompanied by writing throughout, which helps contextualise the work for the reader. For my own photobook, I want to introduce textual elements. Of course, it won’t be to the extent that An Era of Memories goes in narration, but will be a necessary part of my book. By explaining my reasoning and objective for the project, I feel this promotes inclusivity and facilitates the opportunity for learning, something which I always aim to achieve in my work.

Jiehong, 2015: 7

‘At the core of these photographic representations is not their documentary function but rather the revelation of the individuality and identity of the artists’ (Jiehong, 2015: 6)


Sources Used

Jiehong, J. 2015. An Era Without Memories: Chinese Contemporary Photography on Urban Transformation [photobook]. London: Thames & Hudson.

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