Way back in 2006, Patrick Wack left his office job in the busting metropolis of Berlin to start up a career in photography. He left for China soon after and was based there full-time for about a decade. Across the final two years of his stay, he shot a series of images called “Out West,” which he expounds upon below:
“Out West” was more of a distant and contemplative narrative drawing a parallel between the founding American mythology of the conquest of the west — the American concept of Manifest Destiny — and the recent Chinese push towards its far-flung Western borders.
But, after news of alleged concentration camps in China broke in 2018, Patrick went back to his former home to document an even more serious subject: cultural genocide — specifically, the imprisonment of Uighur Muslims, one million of whom are stuck in government-run detention centers. There are 85 known centers in Xinjiang, which is located in Northwest China and is home to numerous ethnic minority groups like the Turkic Uighur people.
My work in Xinjiang entails two projects. “Out West” was shot in 2016 and 2017. The news of the camps appeared for the first time in 2018.
That’s when I decided to go back and shot the second project “The Night Is Thick” around two trips of two weeks each in the region in 2019.
Though fairly different, the two projects were bundled together by Papiers, the quarterly magazine of Radio France. The publication asked Patrick to send over his work and went about putting the shots from the two projects together to show how Xinjiang has taken a turn for the worst.
Papiers contacted me to publish a portfolio of my work in the Xinjiang region and we decided together to publish images of both projects next to each other to signify the destructive process the region has been engulfed in.
Patrick, who is currently looking for funding to publish his work into a monograph, lives in Berlin now. But even with COVID raging across the world, the photographer wants to make it back to Xinjiang to continue his work. Asked what he’d say to someone who didn’t know about this crime against humanity, Patrick kept his answer succinct and pointed.
I hope to be back in Xinjiang soon; I’ll probably keep going until China makes it physically impossible for me to be there.
We promised ourselves this would never happen again. But it is happening again under our very eyes and the international community is hardly doing anything about it.
See more of Patrick’s work at patrick-wack.com.
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