By Ryan Pyle
A 2014 release from
Ryan Pyle Productions
I confess, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I received a request to review this volume of photographs. Although I have worked as a free-lance photographer, my concentration for many years has been writing and reviewing crime fiction. Hence, readers may legitimately question my credentials here.
This book is a stunning accomplishment. During a period of eight years in the first decades of the twenty-first century, the author traveled several times to a remote, sparsely settled, part of Asia to learn about and document the ordinary lives of the people who live there. After graduation from a Canadian university, he eventually established permanent residence in China where he lives and produces award-winning documentaries.
His interest in Turkestan developed gradually and the images contained in this richly produced volume reflect his repeated visits along this section of the Silk Road. Here are images of a modern city closely juxtaposed with people living simple lives, engaged in work that we recall from our history texts of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Here are intimate portraits of citizens of every age, individuals and small groups in formal and informal settings. There are shop owners in street markets, individual customers, factory workers and farmers. Pyle offers the widest possible range of images so that it only requires a casual visit to these pages to acquire a sense of this lonely and special land. And then one is drawn again and again into a more thoughtful and intimate examination of these people, so distant from us in so many way. And yet so powerful in their human-ness. Every time I open the book I am reminded of some of the very early photographs of the people who lived on the Western plains and mountains of North American, before the European settlers arrived.
No expense was spared in the production of the book, the photographs, for the most part are carefully arranged to provide maximum impact to the viewer. I was troubled at times by the rich red borders which distracted my eye from some of the lesser black and white images, and there are cases where the impact of the image is lost because of its placement on the page and the layout strictures. However, these are small caveats in the overall interest this fascinating book of photographs should engender. “Chinese Turkestan” is a thoughtful, interesting and intimate look at the people, the culture and the land.