Essay and Photographs: Tianjin, China

Overcoming others requires force. Overcoming yourself requires forgiveness.

When I arrived in China I stepped off the plane and into a dark, wet air. More than the humidity, it was the stench of the air that sat at the back of my throat like a rotten meringue. As I put my luggage in the trunk of the taxi, I was reminded of a summer during my undergraduate studies in Kentucky. For two years I lived in an attic turned efficiency down the street from the university. The heat caused the pipes in my bathtub to become backed up, and running the water in my kitchen made the tub regurgitate decades of rust and rot leaving an unbearable stench of ammonia in the place.

And so there I was entering into my new life across the ocean reminded of drainage below that had come back when things were broken. Perhaps, they are not so unlike each other, China and the Midwest.

Many of these images are from late evenings after work when I would go into my bedroom and stare out the window. From up there I could feel the distance of the subjects below and observe them in a more personal setting, especially when it was too dangerous to be outdoors. Tianjin, where I was based, is a northeastern port city and about a 30-minute fast train from Beijing. Its location and size means Tianjin produces not only a significant amount of its own pollution, but also collects much of the leftovers from its more substantial neighbor. On the most polluted days, I would put on my face mask and open the window to get the images I needed. Often I couldn't get the camera to focus because the grain in the atmosphere was so dense.