Investigating Beijing’s Underbelly for Travel & Leisure

Clipping from "Beijing 24/7" for Travel & Leisure

Bejing is a notoriously hard city to pin down. It takes years of patient observation and interaction to start exposing the multifaceted nature of China’s capital. I can’t even begin to describe the number of parachute journalists who dropped in for a few days and unsuccessfully tried to capture the essence of the city. It was therefore a great pleasure to provide the photography for the one writer who got closest, Gary Shtenyngart. The satirical novelist spent a week or so in Beijing and left with quite a grasp of the many paradoxes the city has to offer. Maybe it came from his deadpan Russian roots, but he astutely picked apart the absurdities that make the city such a beguiling place to live. Humor is often the only way to get to the heart of the beast. Read the article here. Well done, sir, well done.

Clipping from "Beijing 24/7" for Travel & Leisure

Clipping from "Beijing 24/7" for Travel & Leisure

Clipping from "Beijing 24/7" for Travel & Leisure



    Fat Baby graces the cover of The New Republic for the Chongqing Dockers

    Fat Baby graces the cover The New Republic for the Chongqing Dockers

    I am very excited to announce that my portrait of Fat Baby is currently gracing the cover of The New Republic. Last fall I traveled down to Chongqing to photograph what would become the turning point in the season for the Dockers, the city’s first American football team. Fat Baby was one of the many characters involved in the ups and downs of this amazing venture. I usually provide a short summary of the articles I shoot, but this one needs to be read in its entirety. Chris Beam does an amazing job capturing the absurdities and struggles of this band of warriors. It’s an excellent look into some of the mutating facets of contemporary Chinese culture. It’s so good, in fact, that Sony Pictures bought the movie rights to the story. Maybe you will see Fat Baby on the big screen one day. Definitely a sports star for the ages.

    Matthew Niederhauser photographs the Chongqing Dockers for The New Republic

    Matthew Niederhauser photographs the Chongqing Dockers for The New Republic

    Matthew Niederhauser photographs the Chongqing Dockers for The New Republic

    Matthew Niederhauser photographs the Chongqing Dockers for The New Republic



      Peak Consumption at the New Century Global Centre Goes in Chengdu

      The New Century Global Center is the largest building in the world in terms of floor space.

      The opening of the New Century Global Centre marked a new pinnacle for temples of consumption in China. Catering to the 14 million constituents of Chengdu, it is the largest building on the planet in terms of floor space and hosts all the necessities for the “modern” and “harmonious” Chinese Dream. The bulky complex boasts apartments, offices, conference rooms, a university complex, luxury malls, a skating rink, an IMAX theatre, and two luxury hotels with “ocean views” of an artificial indoor beach flanked by a faux Mediterranean village. One could potentially live a full life under a single roof especially with a 500ft LCD screen in the water park projecting simulated sunsets. The opening of the complex this past summer was mired in controversy though, as the billionaire behind the project, Deng Hong, is now missing and presumed in police custody. More than fifty other government officials including the mayor of Chengdu were also detained in what appears to be a massive corruption scandal at the heart of one of China’s fastest growing metropolises. Such lavish projects are meant to cater to a rising tide of urban migrants looking to enact lavish consumer lifestyles in China’s rapidly expanding cities, but the New Century Global Centre seems to be another vehicle for the personal enrichment of a select group of businessmen and municipal officials. The management office of the building claims that all the spaces are sold, but it appears to be filling up very slowly. The future of the New Century Global Centre will be an interesting litmus test for similar outsized urban development projects across China.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

      A Zaha Hadid-designed art center will eventually be built across from the New Century Global Center.

      A master model of the New Century Global Center sits on display for in the center's main office.

      A massive atrium sits at the center of the New Century Global Center and houses the Paradise Island Waterpark.

      The New Century Global Center is the largest building in the world.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

      The New Century Global Center houses a massive mall with both domestic and international brands.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

      The Lotte department store in the New Century Global Center contains dioramas and wall paintings for customers to pose with while shopping.

      The Lotte department store in the New Century Global Center contains dioramas and wall paintings for customers to pose with while shopping.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.

      The New Century Global Center is the largest building in the world.The New Century Global Center is the largest building in the world in terms of floor space.

      A massive atrium sits at the center of the New Century Global Center and houses the Paradise Island Waterpark.

      The Paradise Island Park sits under a massive atrium at the center of the New Century Global Centre in Chengdu.



        Counterfeit Paradises in the Media

        Counterfeit Paradises is seeing a lot of play this year. So far it was featured in Bloomberg Businessweek in the United States, Wired in the United Kingdom, and Sonntagsblick Magazine in Switzerland. A big Stern feature will also show up in Germany sometime in the coming months. More importantly, I am in the midst of speaking to a number of publishers about a Counterfeit Paradises book. Hopefully more details will become apparent in the near future. Otherwise, check out an updated description of the project as well as an expanded cut here.

        Given the choice between a good hell and a counterfeit paradise, what will people choose? Whatever you say, many people will believe that a counterfeit paradise has got to be better than a good hell. Though at first they recognize that the paradise is bogus, they either don’t dare or wish to expose it as such. As time passes, they forget that it’s not real and actually begin to defend it, insisting that it’s the only paradise in existence.” – Chan Koonchung

        China’s grand development plan continues to grow at an unrelenting pace. It is undoubtedly the largest infrastructure buildout in the history of mankind. However, too much is at stake to slow down such a gargantuan economic force, even as cracks appear in it across the country. Pollution, relentless traffic, and corruption are now a daily part of urban life. Counterfeit Paradises explores these cracks through the “harmonious” cities and sites of leisure emerging throughout China. Such locations are shaping a greater architecture of materialism that gives rise to unsustainable consumer patterns. A billion more people in China cannot live in the same manner as urbanites in American and Europe. The pooled natural resources of the planet could not bear it. For now the Chinese nouveau riche partake in an imagined space of contentment even as reassuring political rhetoric regarding the trappings of their “modern” lifestyles wears thin. This fantasy plays out in many spaces: newfangled municipal districts, communist heritage sites, amusement parks, cultural institutions, and themed luxury residential developments. They all serve to prop up a consumer paradigm that is increasingly important to the short-term economic growth of China but detrimental to its long-term sustainability. The hopes and dreams of many are woven into such spurious ventures, even if in practice many of them remain underused. These fanciful but alienating terrains are the Counterfeit Paradises of China.

        Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

        Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

        Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

        Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

        Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

        Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.

        Clippings from the Counterfeit Paradises project investigating urban development and leisure habits in China.



          The Modern Terracotta Army and Chinese Nationalism

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          The military parade for the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China was held on October 1, 2009. It took months of preparation. Over 10,000 troops and all manner of tanks, artillery, missiles, and aircraft processed down the Avenue of Eternal Peace with Chinese Communist Party leaders observing from Tiananmen Gate. The highly coordinated spectacle was one of the largest demonstrations of China’s growing military strength to date, clearly signaling the country’s intentions to take its place amongst the great world powers. The grand symbolic gesture was then immortalized in military museums and theme parks around China, but none more so than the Hengdian National Defense Technology Education Park. It displays an exact replica of every soldier, vehicle, and aircraft that took part in the march. Many of them sport distinguishing features like the Terracotta warriors that still stand testament to the armies of Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of China. The massive diorama stretches for hundreds of meters and celebrates a militant nationalism that continues to seep into the core of Chinese society. China’s emergence as a world power is seen by many as a rightful status reclamation after centuries of humiliation at the hands of the West and other neighboring countries. There is little to stop them either.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.

          A complete diorama of the military parade celebrating the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China near Hengdian World Studios.



            Portraits of Gigi Chao, Asia’s Most Famous Lesbian, for The Times

            Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong for The Times weekend magazine.

            This was definitely one of the more interesting assignments to come my way. The story of Gigi Chao and her father, Cecil, who put up a large bounty (HK$500 million) to anyone who could wed and bed his lesbian daughter, went viral on the Internet late last year. As if her life weren’t storied enough growing up amongst the mansions, helicopters, and yachts of Hong Kong’s elite, she was suddenly the most famous lesbian in Asia and object of unwanted desire from a host of suitors around the world. My father in West Virginia even saw the story and sent me an email suggesting I take a trip from Beijing down to Hong Kong to see what was happening. Eight months later I was boarding a plane to try my luck… at taking her portrait for The Times. Fortunately she was gregarious and no stranger to the camera having already appeared in a host of magazines including a recent cover for Hong Kong Tatler. The shoot itself went very smoothly but was not the time or place to suggest absconding to Las Vegas to tie the knot. Gigi is already happily married to her partner, Sean, another scion of a wealthy Hong Kong family. The incident is far from over, though. It seems Sacha Baron Cohen caught onto the story and is preparing to film a parody of sorts. The absurdity of the entire situation is about to be severely compounded.

            Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

            Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

            Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

            Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

            Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.

            Gigi Chao poses in a studio in Hong Kong.



              Counterfeit Paradises: The Halstatt of China

              The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

              Hallstatt didn’t even see it coming. The UNESCO World Heritage village nestled against a pristine lake in the Austrian alps hosts thousands of tourists drawn to its picturesque setting. Still, it didn’t realize some of them were slowly taking its measurements in order to recreate it as a whole in China. The new Hallstatt is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province. Although possibly a compliment to the original Hallstatt’s idyllic nature, many of the residents were quite stunned by the development. A local hotel owner told The Telepgraph, “I don’t like the idea of knowing that a team was present here for years measuring, and photographing, and studying us. I would have expected them to approach us directly – the whole thing reminds of a bit of Big Brother is watching.” Although the core of the new Hallstatt is finished, the developers continue to frantically build the surrounding units in order to capitalize on the publicity. It’s success lies on the reception of the ersatz Halstatt centerpiece.

              The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

              The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

              The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

              The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

              The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

              The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

              The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.

              The new Hallstatt in Guangdong is now the centerpiece of a massive luxury villa development set against a artificial lake in Guangdong province.



                Girls’ Generation K-Pop Factory Girls for The New Yorker

                Clipping from The New Yorker's Factory Girls article featuring Girls' Generation.

                I am going to be playing catch up over the next month or two – lots of new work and clippings to share. These images are from an awesome article for The New Yorker delving into Korean pop music (aka K-pop). I flew down to Jakarta to witness a massive stadium concert featuring some of the biggest names in K-pop from S.M. Entertainment and take portraits of Girls’ Generation. The nine member group consists of Taeyeon, Jessica, Sunny, Tiffany, Hyoyeon, Yuri, Sooyoung, Yoona and Seohyun. It was easily one of my most stressful photographic experiences. The management closely grooms these girls for years and try to control their media presence very closely. They were suspicious of what The New Yorker would detail and didn’t provide me with any information on how to get into the stadium properly. I was lucky enough to find a sympathetic security guard who let me into the backstage area where I only had fifteen minutes to set up all my lighting gear and another fifteen minutes with Girls’ Generation to take the actual photographs. Luckily they had some nice pink satin backdrops that worked well with my ring flash. Girls’ Generation knew how to pose for the camera as well, of course. The New Yorker Photo Booth blog interviewed me about the shoot here. These are some of the hottest up-and-coming stars in K-pop.

                Girls' Generation perform live in a Jakarta stadium for an S.M. Entertainment showcase of Korean pop.

                Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

                Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

                Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

                Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

                Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

                Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

                Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

                Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

                Girls Generation members pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta.

                Girls' Generation pose before their big stadium show in Jakarta



                  Counterfeit Paradises: Minsk World Aircraft Carrier Theme Park

                  Tourists pose in front of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

                  Chinese nationalism continues to peak with the country’s emerging status as a world power, even if its military technology remains decades behind other nations. In 2012 the People’s Liberation Army christened its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which in actuality is a retrofitted Soviet aircraft carrier, the Varyag. Right now the Liaoning is still years away from being fully operational. It was only recently that a Chinese-manufactured J-15 fighter jet successfully landed on and took off from the aircraft carrier. In open battle the Liaoning would be a large, rather useless, sitting target, but symbolically it is still very potent. Such ex-Soviet aircraft carriers also see other uses in China, including the Minsk, which is now part of the Minsk World military theme park near Shenzhen. Here Chinese patrons can wander exhibits extolling the prowess of the People’s Liberation Army and indulge in other martial fantasies. It is the perfect place to fantasize about China’s future military potential, especially with all the saber rattling occurring over the Diaoyu Islands.

                  A couple poses for wedding photographs on the deck of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

                  An attendent walks off the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

                  Tourists inspect the deck of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

                  A tourist poses in front of a fake naval backdrop in a hold on the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

                  An attendent takes a nap in the cafe at the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

                  Old military aircraft pepper the deck of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

                  A stage set up on the deck of the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.

                  Highrises stand along the shoreline across from the Minsk World aircraft carrier theme park.



                    “The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei” Wins John Kobal Award at National Portrait Gallery

                    Ai Weiwei poses in front of his studio with one of his newfound cats.

                    I am very pleased to announce that I was given the John Kobal New Work Award in affiliation with the 2012 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portraiture Prize at the National Portrait Gallery in London this November. It was quite a whirlwind of an evening, and I must say I was completely honored to be awarded amongst all the great work that also hangs in the 2012 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portraiture Prize exhibition. I can’t encourage people enough to go visit and see for themselves. It will be hanging in the National Portrait Gallery until February 17, 2013. The portrait of Ai Weiwei was originally commissioned for Foreign Policy’s 2011 edition of the Top 100 Global Thinkers issue. It has since gone on to appear on the cover of the Telegraph’s Seven Magazine as well as in other media outlets. Check out the installation shots below. It stands right at the entrance of the exhibition. Critics seem to dig it so far. Lastly, here is the text from the accompanying catalog:

                    “Matthew Niederhauser’s fascination with China was forged during his high-school studies in Mandarin, and the American photographer now lives in Beijing, where he documents aspects of Chinese life for a range of publications including The New Yorker and Time. Artist and political activist Ai Weiwei, the subject of Niederhauser’s entry, has crossed those lines on many occasions. At the time the portrait was taken, as a commission for Foreign Policy magazine, Ai was being held under virtual house arrest and forbidden to leave China following his three-month detention a year earlier. Wanting to capture Ai with one of the many cats that hang around his compound, Niederhauser persuaded him to pose with a ginger stray, its colouring setting off the teal-blue gates of the studio. ‘There was a tense moment when I didn’t think the cat was going to cooperate, but it finally glanced back, allowing me to get a few frames with everything melding together.’

                    All selected photographers under the age of 30 were eligible for the first John Kobal New Work Award. The winning photographer receives a cash prize of £4,000 and a commission from the Gallery to photograph a sitter connected with the UK film industry. The Award was judged by Simon Crocker, Chairman of the John Kobal Foundation, and writer and journalist Liz Jobey, a Trustee of the John Kobal Foundation.”

                    Matthew Niederhauser, recipient of the John Kobal New Work Award during award ceremony of the Taylor Wessing Awards 2012 at the National Portrait Gallery on November 5, 2012 in London, England.National Portrait Gallery 2012 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portraiture Prize installation of The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei

                    Cover clipping of the Telegraph Seven Magazine's The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei

                    Interior clipping of the Telegraph Seven Magazine's The Nine Lives of Ai Weiwei





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