Construction. If there’s one thing Wesley Thomas Wong will remember about living in China, it’s the amount of buildings and roads and bridges being constantly constructed. But somewhere in the vast forest of cranes and people, he found something that looked like another world: the Big Ice and Snow World festival in Harbin. For the past 15 years or so, the city has transformed itself for two months into a surreal ephemeral landscape of giant castles and sculptures, created like so much in China: hastily and in extreme conditions by local workers. And it was these laborers that Wong photographed nearly every winter for five years, with admiration and curiosity. In “The Ice Man Cometh,” the eery landscape becomes a blank slate, a metaphor for contemporary China. He joined R&K from his home in Hangzhou.
Roads & Kingdoms: How did this festival start?
Wesley Thomas Wong: Getting any kind of accurate information in China is very difficult. It’s been going on for about 15 years and it’s run by the city, but the actual guy who started it is still kind of a mystery. You would think the PR people would know who he was, but they said: “some guy started it and built it.” I’m sure it was like everything here in China, you know, to make money. Tourism is really exploding inside China. When I first came here about six years ago, I used to go to some of the sites and I was just blown away by the fact that I wasn’t seeing foreigners. If you go to any of the smaller cities, you see these really crazy things being built all the time. Most of these places are still caught in a time-warp. Everything is modernizing in the big cities and so the they’re trying to cash in on that whole thing.