Friday, March 25, 2011

An evening with Sze Tsung Leong

Sze Tsung Leong is a traveler. He was born in Mexico in 1970, and spent his childhood in Mexico, Britain and the US, before moving to China. He is now based in New York but he travels the world to reveal its History recorded in urban landscapes. He is fascinated by cities. Probably because he was an architect before capturing his large detailed landscapes with a 8x10 camera.
He is also what we could call an intellectual photographer. His series are very esthetic but essentially extremely well thought out. More than the emotional aspects of his photographs – not saying that this is missing - what I recall is their message or more precisely their multiple meanings. He started his lecture by acknowledging the fact that if his work needed to be explained it meant that it was a failure. He has written many essays about his work and given his own very interesting interpretation without forgetting that of course everyone could and should find their own.
His inspiring work is about History, societies, civilizations and globalization. It’s about the transformation of the world, about its contrasts and similarities, about its power and fragility. It’s also about its pictorial aspects, about lines, shapes, textures and colors.
 Cities are the mirrors of change, they are larger than the people who inhabit them, they are the results of stronger forces that cannot always be controlled, from geological power to political or religious beliefs.
‘Smash the old world, build the new world’.
The first series called ‘History Images’ and exclusively shot in China is the perfect representation of this popular Chinese slogan from the 60s or 70s.
The powerful Chinese regime has the ability to change the look of their cities by erasing the old to start from scratch. From the imperial period to the socialist regime to the rise of a capitalist economy, Chinese landscapes tell it all. But coexistence between these different periods doesn’t last. Sze Tsung Leong’s photographs perfectly depict this ephemeral and quite sad situation. 

Nan Shi, Huangpu District, Shanghai, 2004

Shibati, Yuzhong District, Chongqing, 2003

Xinjiekou, Xuanwu District, Nanjing, 2004

Beizhuanzi II, Siming District, Xiamen, 2004
 ‘Horizons’ : the separation between the sky and the earth, between the known and the unknown, the limit to our vision, the center point of Sze Tsung Leong’s images.
This series (that probably has to be seen on a wall to become even more beautiful) drives parallels between landscapes of the world and makes us search for similarities and differences. Visually but also through our own experiences of these places we look for clues to recognize these untitled environments. We search for connections, associations and contrasts. The images leave us with our own very personal questions, answers and feelings. 

Installation of Horizons at Yossi Milo Gallery, 2008
 His latest series is simply and most naturally called ‘Cities’. In contrast with the previous set of images shot at ground level and from a distance here we climb higher to get a full closer view and the maximum detail possible. Once again Sze Tsung Leong questions our relationship to the world, the link between cities and History, globalization through different period of times (from Spanish colonization to the spread of capitalism). But most of all he lets everyone make their own interpretation and drive their conclusions; this is not about accusing humanity or making any statement about the future. His large-scale urban images simply provide a direct, accurate and universal testimony of where our civilization stands today.

Xiasha Village, Futian District, Shenzhen, 2008

La Paz, 2010

Houston II, 2010

Nairobi I, 2009
More on Sze Tsung Leong :


  1. If you are interested in his work, you should read some of his essays from his architectural days in the following book,
    Great Leap Forward: Harvard Design School Project on the City

  2. Thanks for the tip. Lots of great essays to download on his website too.