Huangshan, (literally ‘Yellow Mountain’) in Anhui Province is one of China's most iconic national monuments. A range of mountains consisting of 72 granite peaks, the ‘Mount Huangshan Scenic Area’ covers an area of nearly 300 sq.km and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its habitat for rare and threatened species. One of China’s top tourist destinations, its iconic beauty ranks with the Yangtze River and the Great Wall as a potent cultural and spiritual symbol. A ‘sister’ national park of Yosemite in the US, it has inspired centuries of painters, poets and scholars becoming known to the Chinese as ‘the number one mountain under heaven’.
The entire Mount Huangshan Scenic Area is owned and managed by the ‘Huangshan Tourism & Development Company Ltd’ and is listed on the Shanghai Stock Exchange. China’s decades of rapid economic reforms and the unwillingness of central government to allocate money and resources to such areas has led to this process of privatization. It’s a model that is being widely replicated for other iconic spiritual and historic sites, from Shaolin temples to sections of the Great Wall.
Huangshan is renowned for the gossamer threads of ethereal mist which drape the mountains. And the regularity with which those mists dramatically converge into dense ‘seas’ of cloud. Surging and billowing between the peaks, these clouds obscure all notions of scale, an allegory for the process of privatization of an iconic landscape. In this series of photographs the mist is seen to build, converge into a sea of cloud that blankets the peaks, and finally disperse. Photographed in a style resonant of traditional Chinese ink drawings, the clouds denote the growing rift between a nation and a landscape once revered as the inspiration for the Chinese collective national identity.
Jon Wyatt – Artist Statement
Historically cultures have turned to their natural environment as a source of inspiration for collective identification. Myths, memories and cultural virtues are projected onto a landscape, its characteristics mapped, elaborated and enriched. Over time that landscape moves beyond the role of a cherished homeland, acquiring iconic status and becoming imbued with moral and spiritual significance. Painters, writers and photographers help create and venerate these landscapes, which come to embody a national identity and the aspirations of a society.
Increasingly this bond between a culture and its physical landscape is deteriorating, becoming eroded as we adapt the environment to suit our own ends, rather than allowing it to shape who we are. This is the framework within which I photograph - searching for tools within the landscape that articulate this growing spiritual and cultural detachment. Amongst the issues addressed by my work are those of national identity and iconography, conservation, ecosystem transitions and the ethics of land ownership.