Artist Sze Tsung Leong’s work examines the spatial consequences of rapid urban development in China. The photographs in History Images reveal the seemingly instantaneous disappearance and appearance of huge swaths of urban fabric, or in some cases, entire cities. Leong records precise moments in the history of these places, such as the Xuanwu District of Beijing, where Ming and Qing Dynasty courtyard houses, partially destroyed, wait to be demolished to make way for luxury housing; or a field of rubble that is now Old Fengdu, a city razed to make way for the Three Gorges Dam. Leong captures the physical implications of this development process-landscapes imprinted with both irrevocable loss and anticipation of the future.

The scale of urban development currently underway in China is by far the greatest in the world, and yet these photographs are not only about China. As Leong says, “They are about urban erasure, historical absence, and new development of which China may currently have some of the clearest and perhaps most extreme manifestations.” Though the physical outcome of these development projects may be familiar, it remains to be seen how the widespread loss of cultural heritage in built form will effect the future of these cities, and others like them all over the world.

History Images features a series of eight large-format color prints, all taken from a distant vantage point, looking out over expansive sites in cities throughout China-each one in a state of radical transformation.


History Images is the first solo exhibition by Sze Tsung Leong in New York City. Born in Mexico City (1970), he lives and works in Beijing and New York City.

Leong’s work will also be included in the exhibition:

Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video From China
Curated by Christopher Phillips and Wu Hung
June 11 – September 5, 2004
International Center of Photography and Asia Society

Image: Old Fengdu, Chongqing Municipality, 2002