PORTRAITS

The Water is Worse

The water is worse, but he air you breathe is death. One of the most common ways to prevent inhaling harmful pollutants or sickness is by filtering the air with a surgical mask and there might be no other place (other than Japan) to see that practice employed than in China.

Living in China this sight like so many things became a new daily custom. There are cities in the United States that struggle with air quality, most noticeably Los Angeles. But it is rare to see someone wearing a mask on a daily basis because they believe the air they breathe is dangerous.

Masks inevitably provide a sense of security from pollution, but they also provide an element of anonymity and mystery and are the most recognizable affect of air pollution in China. The air is thick and visibly polluted with ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and other toxins in the air. These pollutants cause respiratory failure, illness, and death.

 The larger question is what the full affect of this pollution is for China and the rest of the world. The cycle of contamination is present in all forms of life. The air affects the soil through rain and the soil contaminates ground water aquifers. Vegetables and fruits are harvested as direct agents of pollution. Over one tenth of China’s farmland is contaminated with heavy metals. And even more important to understand is that China’s environment affects the entire world. This pollution is livable; it is a blanket that rests on the couch of Chinese civilization that has a generally long life span tempered by medicinal herbs and daily exercise.

These portraits were taken on the streets in China of individuals I did not know, but were willing to stop for a few minutes as I tried to communicate with them through English, broken Chinese and sign language. Life in China was indeed strange at times, but in was not just a different culture, but a different comfort with pollution and the environment that the Chinese live with. I now sit in Finland as I write this post trying to reflect on the past year living in China. I like anyone else in China developed a certain comfort in the pollution that surrounded me or that some how I was ok with not having seen a blue sky in months. I will miss China. I will not miss the grey sky and the shit air, but I will miss everything that is amazing about Pre-Mao Chinese history and culture.

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