Out west

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang.

Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered.

Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries.

More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown.

May 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Travellers getting on and off the train to Hotan at the Kashgar railway station. This is the only railway linking the oasis towns south of the Taklamakan desert where most of Xinjiang's Uighur community in Xinjiang lives.
Xinjiang is the westernmost province in all China, located at the border of Central Asian countries, Russia and Mongolia. More than twice the size of France, it has only 22 million inhabitants, a majority of which are the indigenous Uighurs, a sunni-muslim Turkic ethnic group which has lived in the region for centuries. Tensions have nonetheless arisen in the last decade as a consequence of the en-masse migration of Han Chinese settlers and confessional persecution by the strongly secular governmental authorities.

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang. Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered. Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries. More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown. Out West offers an experience of Xinjiang that highlights its estrangement from contemporary perceptions of the new China, accentuating undercurrents of tension and the mystique it has cultivated—whether in their minds or ours. At its core, Out West is a question of perspective: What is the West but the East to another?

May 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Travellers getting on and off the train to Hotan at the Kashgar railway station, on the only railway linking the oasis towns south of the Taklamakan desert.

December 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Old Han Chinese man photographed in the bedroom of his house. He is the guardian of a mine in the Taklmakan desert in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is the westernmost province in all China, located at the border of Central Asian countries, Russia and Mongolia. More than twice the size of France, it has only 22 million inhabitants, a majority of which are the indigenous Uighurs, a sunni-muslim Turkic ethnic group which has lived in the region for centuries. Tensions have nonetheless arisen in the last decade as a consequence of the en-masse migration of Han Chinese settlers and confessional persecution by the strongly secular governmental authorities.

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang. Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered. Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries. More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown. Out West offers an experience of Xinjiang that highlights its estrangement from contemporary perceptions of the new China, accentuating undercurrents of tension and the mystique it has cultivated—whether in their minds or ours. At its core, Out West is a question of perspective: What is the West but the East to another?

December 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Old Han Chinese man photographed in the bedroom of his house. He is the guardian of a mine in the Taklmakan desert in the western Chinese province of Xinjiang.

December 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Senior technician from a Chinese state-owned oil company taking a cigarette break after lunch near one of the team's vehicle.  He is part of an oil exploration team from a Chinese state-owned company operating in the Taklamakan desert in the province of Xinjiang. This team and a few others are setting up thousands of explosive charges for weeks at a time that are all detonated at sthe same time to detect oil fields. Company is CNPC, China National Petroleum Corporation.

Xinjiang is the westernmost province in all China, located at the border of Central Asian countries, Russia and Mongolia. More than twice the size of France, it has only 22 million inhabitants, a majority of which are the indigenous Uighurs, a sunni-muslim Turkic ethnic group which has lived in the region for centuries. Tensions have nonetheless arisen in the last decade as a consequence of the en-masse migration of Han Chinese settlers and confessional persecution by the strongly secular governmental authorities.

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang. Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered. Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries. More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown. Out West offers an experience of Xinjiang that highlights its estrangement from contemporary perceptions of the new China, accentuating undercurrents of tension and the mystique it has cultivated—whether in their minds or ours. At its core, Out West is a question of perspective: What is the West but the East to another?

Xinjiang is the westernmost province in all China, located at the border of Central Asian countries, Russia and Mongolia. More than twice the size of France, it has only 22 million inhabitants, a majority of which are the indigenous Uighurs, a sunni-muslim Turkic ethnic group which has lived in the region for centuries. Tensions have nonetheless arisen in the last decade as a consequence of the en-masse migration of Han Chinese settlers and confessional persecution by the strongly secular governmental authorities.

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang. Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered. Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries. More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown. Out West offers an experience of Xinjiang that highlights its estrangement from contemporary perceptions of the new China, accentuating undercurrents of tension and the mystique it has cultivated—whether in their minds or ours. At its core, Out West is a question of perspective: What is the West but the East to another?

December 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Senior technician from a Chinese state-owned oil company taking a cigarette break after lunch near one of the team's vehicle.

May 2016. Xinjiang province, China. View of road G314 in China, aka the Karakoram highway, the road linking the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with Pakistan through the Pamir mountains. On the right is the Baishahu lake. A new road should be finished by 2017 to increase trade between the two countries.

Xinjiang is the westernmost province in all China, located at the border of Central Asian countries, Russia and Mongolia. More than twice the size of France, it has only 22 million inhabitants, a majority of which are the indigenous Uighurs, a sunni-muslim Turkic ethnic group which has lived in the region for centuries. Tensions have nonetheless arisen in the last decade as a consequence of the en-masse migration of Han Chinese settlers and confessional persecution by the strongly secular governmental authorities.

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang. Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered. Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries. More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown. Out West offers an experience of Xinjiang that highlights its estrangement from contemporary perceptions of the new China, accentuating undercurrents of tension and the mystique it has cultivated—whether in their minds or ours. At its core, Out West is a question of perspective: What is the West but the East to another?

Road G314 in China, aka the Karakoram highway, the road linking the western Chinese province of Xinjiang with Pakistan through the Pamir mountains.

November 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Oil derrick at the Norther border of the Taklamakan desert in Luntai county in Xinjiang in between Korla and Kuqa, north of the Taklamakan desert. Luntai is a county in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is under the administration of the Bayin'gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture.

Xinjiang is the westernmost province in all China, located at the border of Central Asian countries, Russia and Mongolia. More than twice the size of France, it has only 22 million inhabitants, a majority of which are the indigenous Uighurs, a sunni-muslim Turkic ethnic group which has lived in the region for centuries. Tensions have nonetheless arisen in the last decade as a consequence of the en-masse migration of Han Chinese settlers and confessional persecution by the strongly secular governmental authorities.

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang. Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered. Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries. More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown. Out West offers an experience of Xinjiang that highlights its estrangement from contemporary perceptions of the new China, accentuating undercurrents of tension and the mystique it has cultivated—whether in their minds or ours. At its core, Out West is a question of perspective: What is the West but the East to another?

Xinjiang is the westernmost province in all China, located at the border of Central Asian countries, Russia and Mongolia. More than twice the size of France, it has only 22 million inhabitants, a majority of which are the indigenous Uighurs, a sunni-muslim Turkic ethnic group which has lived in the region for centuries. Tensions have nonetheless arisen in the last decade as a consequence of the en-masse migration of Han Chinese settlers and confessional persecution by the strongly secular governmental authorities.

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang. Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered. Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries. More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown. Out West offers an experience of Xinjiang that highlights its estrangement from contemporary perceptions of the new China, accentuating undercurrents of tension and the mystique it has cultivated—whether in their minds or ours. At its core, Out West is a question of perspective: What is the West but the East to another?

November 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Oil derrick at the Norther border of the Taklamakan desert in Luntai county in Xinjiang in between Korla and Kuqa.

November 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Young Uighur-minority seasonal worker in the last days of the cotton harvest in Luntai county in between the cities of Korla and Kuqa, north of the Taklamakan desert. Luntai is a county in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and is under the administration of the Bayin'gholin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture. Cotton is one of the largest agricultural industries in the province and many local Uighurs are used as cheap seasonal labour during the harvest.

Xinjiang is the westernmost province in all China, located at the border of Central Asian countries, Russia and Mongolia. More than twice the size of France, it has only 22 million inhabitants, a majority of which are the indigenous Uighurs, a sunni-muslim Turkic ethnic group which has lived in the region for centuries. Tensions have nonetheless arisen in the last decade as a consequence of the en-masse migration of Han Chinese settlers and confessional persecution by the strongly secular governmental authorities.

Borrowing from romanticized notions of the American frontier, synonymous with ideals of exploration and expansion, photographer Patrick Wack captures a visual narrative of China’s westernmost region—Xinjiang. Whereas the American West conjures images of cowboys and pioneers, of manifest destiny and individualistic freedom, the Chinese West has not yet been so defined. It is a place of pluralities—of haunting, expansive landscapes, of rough mountains and vivid lakes, of new construction and oil fields, of abandoned structures in decaying towns, of devout faith and calls to prayer, of silence and maligned minorities, of opportunity and uncertain futures. It is a land of shifting identity. In essence, Xinjiang is the new frontier to be conquered and pondered. Literally translating to “new frontier” in Chinese, Xinjiang is a land apart, and has been so for centuries. More than twice the land area of France with a population less than the city of Shanghai, the Chinese province of Xinjiang once connected China to Central Asia and Europe as the first leg of the ancient Silk Road. Yet it remains physically, culturally, and politically distinct, an otherness within modern China. Its infinite sense of space; its flowing Arabic scripts and mosque-filled cityscapes; its designation as an autonomous region; and simmering beneath, its uneasy relationship with the encroaching, imposing, surveilling East. For China’s ethnic Han majority, Xinjiang is once again the new frontier, to be awakened for Beijing’s new Silk Road—China’s own manifest destiny—with the promise of prosperity in its plentiful oil fields. For Patrick Wack, Out West is as a much a story of the region as it is his own, as much a documentation of a contemporary and historical place as it is an emotional journey of what it means to strive, and for what. There exists an inherent fascination in the region—as both key and foil to the new China—and a siren’s call to its vast limitlessness that instinctively incites introspection and desire. Showcasing a romanticism of the frontier, Out West presents Xinjiang via the lens of its present day, in photography that speaks of the surrealistic tranquility—and disquiet—of the unknown. Out West offers an experience of Xinjiang that highlights its estrangement from contemporary perceptions of the new China, accentuating undercurrents of tension and the mystique it has cultivated—whether in their minds or ours. At its core, Out West is a question of perspective: What is the West but the East to another?

November 2016. Xinjiang province, China. Young Uighur-minority seasonal worker in the last days of the cotton harvest in Luntai county.

More work

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OUT WEST

Landscapes of Xinjiang | Patrick Wack

HERE ARE THE MEN

Portraits of China | Patrick Wack

WOMEN OF ORISSA

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THE PATH: JOURNEY TO A BETTER FUTURE

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CLIMATE HEROES

CLIMATE CHANGE DOCUMENTARY PROJECT | Maxime Riché