Venue Hire

Visualising the Chinese Mega City

Thursday 26 April 2018, University of Central Lancashire

Kindly Sponsored by

Confucuis Institute logo

This is a unique day long event, which brings together key contemporary photographers, curators and academics, based outside the Chinese mainland, whose work addresses the Chinese mega city. Since 1978 China has undergone an accelerating process of urbanisation that is unprecedented anywhere in the world. A mega city has more than 10 million people, and there are currently an estimated 15 such cities in China.

The conference will ask these questions and more:

  • What sort of urban China is photography showing us?
  • What is the geographical imaginary explored in these photographs and how does it account for mega cities as places and ideas?
  • What kind of contemporary photographers and photographic practices are representing the mega city landscape today?
  • How do landscape photographs help us understand, track or indeed critique processes of urban change and everyday life in the mega city?
  • Do these new urban environments call for new visual responses?

This free event will be held at

The Media Innovation Studio,
Media Factory,
University of Central Lancashire,

It is part of an ongoing research project and is organised by John van Aitken (UCLan) and Jane Brake (Manchester School of Art) with support from the Confucius Institute.

Refreshments provided.

Register now to book a place at this event

Conference Speakers – Paper Abstracts and Biographies

Sze Tsung Nicolas Leong (Keynote Speaker)

Sze Tsung Nicolas Leong

Abstract: History Images

The common perception is that the rewriting of history takes place on the page, but all around us history is being rewritten by changes made to the built environment. The photographs in the series “History Images”, taken between 2002 and 2005, trace the diverse ways in which history is manifested, destroyed, created, and revised in China’s built environment. The photographs were taken at a time of sweeping change—so often experienced in China’s history—as the country shifted abruptly from one system of authority to another. This change revolved, as it had so regularly in the country’s past, around the constant of a highly centralized authority that has the power to structure and shape both its population and its built environment.

The majority of China’s history has been defined by changes from one dynasty to the next. The country’s shift to the market economy can be seen as a parallel to these cycles of upheaval. Just as emperors destroyed conquered cities and built new cities to demonstrate and legitimize their power, today’s urban centres in China have been restructured according to the authority of the market. As a result, traditional areas that are no longer relevant in the workings of the new economy have been wiped away on an immense scale and replaced with new environments. The photographs in “History Images” depict a spectrum of time that includes the remaining traces of the old, the destruction of built history, and the onrush of the new—revealing a country caught in the tenuous period after the end of one history and at the start of another. They are an attempt to show how the recent reshaping of cities in China is essentially the rewriting of history on an urban scale.


Biography: Sze Tsung Nicolas Leong is a British-American artist, born in Mexico City in 1970. His work has been exhibited internationally, and is included in numerous museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the National Galleries of Scotland, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Yale University Art Gallery, among others. He is a Guggenheim Fellow, and his books include History Images (Steidl, 2005), Horizons (Hatje Cantz, 2014), and the forthcoming Paris, Novembre (Steidl, 2018).

Peter Bialobrzeski (Keynote Speaker)

Peter Bialobrzeski

Abstract: Shanghaied in Shanghai

In the last two decades Shanghai has become the fastest growing city in China. Not only economically but also visibly. Photographer Peter Bialobrzeski has visited the city first in 1987, when leafy lanes and very few high rises from the beginning of the 20th century shaped the place. From 2001 he returned regularly and recorded the rapid change in photographs. He published a number of monographic books in which Shanghai and also Shenzhen played a major part. In his talk Peter will highlight his interest in the urban development and show photographs from the following three projects: NEONTIGERS (2004), THE RAW AND THE COOKED (2011) and NAIL HOUSES-OR THE DESTRUCTION OF LOWER SHANGHAI (2014).

Biography: Peter Bialobrzeski studied Politics and Sociology before he became a photographer for a local paper in his native Wolfsburg/Germany. He travelled extensively in Asia before he went to study photography and design at the Folkwangschule Essen and the London College of Printing. Within the last 16 years he has published sixteen monographic books, "XXXholy", "NEONTIGERS", "HEIMAT", "Lost in Transition”, "Paradise Now", "Case Study Homes",  "Informal Arrangements", "The Raw and the Cooked", „Nail Houses“, „Cairo Diary”, „Athens Diary“, „Wolfsburg Diary“, „Taipei Diary“, „Kochi Diary“ and recently „Die zweite Heimat“ as well as “Beirut Diary”.  His work has been exhibited in Europe, USA, Asia, Africa and Australia. He won several awards including the prestigious World Press Photo Award 2003 and 2010. Peter Bialobrzeski has been a visiting professor for photojournalism at the University of Essen in 1998/99. Since 2002 Peter is a regular Professor for photography at the University of the Arts in Bremen/Germany. Furthermore he runs workshops around the world. He is represented by Laurence Miller Gallery in New York, LA Galerie in Frankfurt/Germany and also shows with Robert Morat Gallery in Berlin, as well as at m97 Gallery in Shanghai. In 2012 he was honoured with the Dr Erich Salomon Award by the German Society of Photographers (DGPh).

Marianna Tsionki

Marianna Tsionki

Abstract: What can we tell them that they don’t already know? Visual representations of contemporary urban China

About half of China’s population now lives in large urban centres. This phenomenal urbanization has brought as many benefits as challenges. Together with economic development, growth and prosperity this urban sprawl generates social challenges and environmental hazards. Dramatic increase in the demand for natural resources of any kind including water, land and energy have led to water scarcity, deforestation, land degradation and soil erosion. Large hydroelectric power projects such as the Three Gorges Dam has caused a slew of destructive environmental, geologic and socio-economic urgencies. Furthermore, lack of governmental regulations on waste, industrial and household emissions have dramatically increased water and air pollution. China’s development and environmental policies have positioned the country as the planet’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases and leading contributor to regional and global environmental problems.

Introducing the practices of Chinese visual artists devoted to the incremental effects of urbanisation and industrialisation in China, this paper reflects on visual representations of urban space, social transformations and environmental degradation and ever-changing perceptions of the term ‘environment’ in relation to artistic practices. When the emergent effects of economic growth are intersecting with a more established sense of global ecological crisis, these practices offer an opportunity to rethink the relations between humanity and environment, which have also become central to a number of art exhibitions and publications. This paper addresses cultural questions of progress and climate, pollution and waste, and also examines how art practices provide alternative ways for understanding the contemporary condition in China.


Biography: Marianna Tsionki is the research curator at the Centre for Chinese Contemporary Art, where she is leading on the development of research exhibitions, conferences, publications, projects and CFCCA’s archive & library redevelopment project. In 2017, she curated the research exhibition and symposium, Digital Matters at CFCCA and popup exhibition ‘Towards throw-away technology’ at Whitechapel, London. She is a PhD candidate in Curatorial Practice at Manchester Metropolitan University. Her research examines contemporary discourses at the intersection of art, architecture & technology focusing on spatial production, climate change, eco-aesthetics and migration. She is investigating the role of the curatorial in knowledge production and developing systematic methods for integrating research into exhibitions.

Ferit Kuyas

Ferit Kuyas

Abstract: City of Ambition – Fast Forward in China

The project City of Ambition is a visit to one of the largest cities in the world, Chongqing. The presentation gives insight into chronology and development of a large photographic survey published as a book in 2009. Nicknamed since centuries as the City of Fog, surprisingly we realize that the fog dominating most pictures of the project is real. It serves as a metaphor for the big mystery China still is for many.

The body of work definitely has a strong documentary component, but the ability to transport emotions through imagery is yet equally important to the author. He believes that the combination of the two is vital for a strong and lasting impression.

Chongqing is an unknown place for many people in the Western World. The city is located in Southwest China’s region of Sichuan and was the capital of China during World War II.  Today approx. 30 million people populate the municipality. The immense size of the city, cold, heat, humidity, fog, dust and traffic turned the project into an adventure.


Éanna de Fréine

Éanna de Fréine

Abstract: Taipei: The Alternative Chinese Megacity

This talk takes Taipei as an example of how Chinese cities might have developed had history not developed as it did. In 1949, the PRC gained control of Mainland China and the ROC, fleeing from the Communists, fled to the island of Taiwan, which they set up as the provisional base of the ROC until the mainland could be recaptured. However, the mainland was never recaptured and instead two distinct, but opposing, interpretations of China developed. Each developed in its own unique way.

The cities of Taiwan, and their urban development, are an interesting viewpoint to consider the parallel development of cities on the mainland had the PRC never come to power in 1949. What do the Taiwanese cities such as Taipei and Kaohsiung tell us about the China that never came to be?


Biography: Éanna de Fréine is an Irish photographer based in Berlin. He completed an M.A. in Photography and Urban Cultures at Goldsmiths College, London in 2012. He is primarily interested in documenting the modern landscape in which our lives take place. He is also the founder of the independent publishing house The Velvet Cell, which publishes photobooks relating to the built environment.

Derek Man

Derek Man

Abstract: Close to Home

Close to Home looks at the housing market in Hong Kong, exploring the lives of those caught in the struggle between the human need for shelter and the commercial need for growth – a situation that resonates worldwide. It can also be seen as a record of how rapidly the city landscape is changing from the perspective of an expatriate who has lived in the UK for 12 years.

From a family of four living in one room, to middle-aged men residing in “coffin homes” no bigger than a closet, the lack of affordable housing is forcing Hong Kong’s residents to live in substandard environments. While the government estimates some 200,000 people live in these cramped spaces, research by Society for Community Organisation suggests the number could be much higher.

Alongside the underprivileged, the project also considers the other end of the spectrum and what lies in-between. Most of the scenes photographed were in Kowloon, in inner city areas where sub-divided flats and brand new developments often share the same street.


Biography: Derek Man is a photographer based in London. Born and raised in Hong Kong, he has lived in the UK since 2005 and became a naturalised citizen in 2016. His work explores cultural identity and what we call home – how we form a sense of place, and what makes us feel like we belong.

By showing the up-and-coming private estates, the oldest and newest social housing, showrooms displaying the perfect flats, estate agents desperately selling up land, and the gates behind which ultra wealthy homes sit, the work weaves together a vision of a housing future that is recognisable globally, placing the lives of the people caught in this tension of the commodification of homes back into the wider social context.

Man was nominated for the Magnum Photos Graduate Photographers Award. His work is in the collection of Open Eye Gallery, Liverpool (UK) and Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts (Japan).

Thomas Dukes

Thomas Dukes

Abstract: The City by the Citizens: The uses of vernacular photography


Biography: Thomas Dukes is curator at Open Eye Gallery - the North West’s leading organisation dedicated to photographic development, research and inspiration.  We work with people to further the opportunities and ideas around how photography can lead to a more positive future for everyone.Thomas has worked with Open Eye Gallery to present exhibitions, which have opened discussions on subjects from suicide to affecting change in a grassroots dynamic, always looking to reflect the debate, diversity, and democracy, which the space of photography allows. He has particular interests in the results of new technologies impacting on photography, as well as guerrilla tactics in photography to agitate for change.

Eugenie Shinkle 

Eugenie Shinkle

Abstract: Building Space with the Camera: Geometry, Architecture, and the Urban Landscape

Linear perspective had its origins in the European cities of the c15th, around the same time that the urban bourgeoisie began to concern themselves with the practical appropriation and control of space. The allied notion of ‘landscape’ also appeared around the same time, and instructions for depicting landscapes were often to be found in treatises on linear perspective.  This talk examines the historical affinities between linear perspective, landscape, and the representation of the built environment. It concludes by examining the work of three contemporary photographers – Edward Burtynsky, Nadav Kander, and Sze Tsung Leong – who use the Euclidean space of the camera as a means of critically engaging with the built form of the Chinese megacity.

Biography: Originally trained as a civil engineer, Eugenie Shinkle went on to study photography, art history, landscape anthropology and critical theory, obtaining her doctorate from the Slade School of Fine Art (London, UK) in 2003. Her academic research is interdisciplinary in nature and includes both visual and written practice. She writes and lectures widely on a range of topics including architecture, landscape, fashion photography, vision machines, and human/technology relations. These diverse areas are bound together by a longstanding interest in the haptic and embodied dimensions of our relations with images and image-making technologies. More recently this interest has grown to incorporate ideas drawn from affect theory and cognitive neuroscience, and to explore ways that such approaches can broaden our understanding of our relationships with photographic images. She is Reader in Photography at the Westminster School of Media Art and Design in London.


Travel and Accommodation

Please refer to our 'How to find us' page for further information about travelling to the University.

You can walk to the Media Factory, the main conference venue, from the train station in 10 minutes, but you may also want to stay in Preston. There are many hotels in and around Preston, and those shown here are all in the town centre, in order of distance from the Media Factory:

Draft Programme

The Programme will be available here soon.