Ejected roughly from a loosely air-conditioned cab, we spill out into Kashgar’s archaic sandstone market centre; once a major gateway from the farthest reaches of western China through to snowy Pakistan, Kashgar now resembles an overused set from 1970s hong kong cinema. Fumbling for a Nikon I steady my rudely awakened body against a less-than-adequate lamp post, and begin to take in the dusty sepia-infused atmosphere.
Tightly-packed, low-rise, yellow-brick buildings form dusty runways that coral scurrying people below from salon to Tabac, life partially hidden from view by a blanket of thick grey bubbling wood-smoke pouring from every architectural orifice. As the viscous smoke rises upwards it rallies and aggressively suffocates the black crenelated shadow that forms a biblical horizon. Momentarily poetic.
The cab splutters and pulls away leaving us stranded outside the peeling green doors of an old youth hostel. Inside, dimmly lit dormatories encircle a dusty mosaiced open courtyard home to a pack of motorcyclists from Beijing quietly fixing their metal steeds. A European cyclist perches on a balcony above, watching the entouarge below he occasionally stabs at his notepad with random thoughts, pausing only to look wistfully at the horizon. We pass by a time-worn computer moaning wearily as an earnest traveller attempts, unsuccessfully, to check the weather forecast, and somewhere behind closed doors a hardy fridge hums happily laden full of locally produced honey beer.
Stashing our gear underneath dusty matresses there’s a momentary wrestle with an uncooperative stained-glass window. Begrudgingly the ancient warped metal frame swings outwards and through a sea of dust motes dancing in the heavy air our first view of Kashgar streams through. Rescuing a couple more cameras we leave our precious gear packed and vaguely hidden in a varity of obvious places and take our first steps out into the dense, smoky shadows.
A Tolkien Landscape
D700 / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Khunjerab Pass
Traveling the Karakorum Highway from Kashgar up to the snowy peaks of the Pamir mountains, our clapped-out thirty year-old car sets a steady pace through the windy lowlands, the ice-capped peaks in the distance promising stories and adventures in equal measure. This gateway to Pakistan resembles a landscape from Tolkien’s middle earth. We arrive at the deserted border, a howling wind preventing us from venturing too far. A handful of bored Chinese guards keep a careful eye on us as we pick our way around the farthest outpost on china’s western frontier, nothing exists here except for the occasional rhythmic chugging of an over-laden mini-bus heading for Pakistan.
A Momentary Pause
D700 / 50 f1.4 / Yarkant
The livestock market leaves nothing to the imagination, it’s a time-tested script of source-to-sell perfectly executed on a clockwork schedule. Stepping through a heavy door of yellowed plastic sheets, the cool interior of the death house is a refreshing change from the blistering heat outside. Laid out across the blood-stained tiled floor of this single-room building are row upon row of cattle, strung up by their legs, bleeding out. Two young men weilding sharp knifes eyeball me and my camera with disdain, fresh blood dripping off the tips of their blades as they slowly run a whetstone over the razor sharp steel, almost as if inviting me to stand in line. More cattle are ushered in and the routine repeats; praying, cutting, skinning and skilfully butchering every inch of every animal. Nothing is left except thick crimson blood running down choked gutters to the world outside.
Boy With Bike
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Hotan
A young boy sits on the family motorcycle, polishing a dusty fuel tank in the midst of a mild midday sand storm. Sitting a few metres away, his parents crouch on the road curb sorting through small pieces of multi-colored Jade they fished out of the White Jade River.
The Night Market
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar
As dusk falls over this archaic western outpost, a thriving night market erupts in a raucous entanglement of fat, dust, and sweat pitched against such an inescapable medley of localized tongue that it’s enough to make one wished they had studied the local dialect a little harder, if not at all.
Trans China National Highway
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Xinjiang
A sudden rush of noise from behind, the honk of a horn, the revving of an over-worked engine and a motorbike passes us at over ninety, stampeding the melting tarmac as if behind schedule. The Nikon leaps out the window with me closely behind, hanging a full half-body out in mid-air whilst white noise takes over. Fighting against the ravaging wind I heave the heavy black camera up to eye level and it’s already focusing before I compose, eager to capture the majestic scene ahead.
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Yarkant
Dawn brings a short bumpy ride to the Sunday cattle market. Pulling in the local farmers and domestic tourists alike, mutton adorns every menu, sweet, gritty teas spill from over-filled tea-pots, and long-deceased cattle rock gently in a calm breeze, strung-up on stall corners and slowly stripped of their meat until only their bare bleached bones remain.
D4 / 70-200 f2.8 / Kashgar
The main road running through the centre of Kashgar becomes a hive of activity twice a day as the local Uighur school manages it’s student population. Domestic tourism is growing in Xin Jiang, but with tensions raising between the native Uigur and the ubiquitous Han, it’s proving hard to bring money in from the rest of China’s deep pockets.
Read More about China…
Because it makes me a stronger photographer.
I found that after 15 years shooting digital my field-work attitude had shifted for the worse; I became accustomed to the high FPS my Nikons could turn over, became lazy when bracketing for HDR, began to abuse high ISO and just accepted the grain in all weather. I’d even leave my tripod at home and just make do with image
So I changed.
Forcing ourselves to select a small number of images amongst an infinite number of possibilities enables us to think deeper about our photography, it gives us motivation and
It's worth noting that 10IMG isn't about obsessive image matching for competitions or exhibitions, nor is it particularly constrained when choosing images for individual pools; think of it as a guiding principle designed to maintain standards and encourage exploration in photography and art as you move through life.
With regards to my photography, I use #10IMG to reduce my collections to only the images I deem fit for purpose; that is to say, those images which affected me the most when shot, or images which exhibit an iconic quality in terms of subject matter or juxtaposition, or even images which contrast with one another in every way possible.
Barnaby Jaco Skinner
Photographer & Artist