Anthony Reed 

‘ORDOS’  - Anthony Reed, March 2021

Remnants of failed developments litter the outskirts of Ordos. Abandoned projects in the desert, incomplete concrete structures slowly retaken by the harsh environment. Contemporary art museums, 80,000 seater stadiums, brand new hospitals all sit vacant waiting for their future inhabitants. It is alienating to experience these ‘not yet abandoned but not yet inhabited’ corners of the city. An unworldly environment, reminiscent of a post apocalyptic film set rather than a real place.

Being based in Shanghai as a photographer for over 10 years I had heard stories of a ‘ ghost city’ in Inner Mongolia and had seen online articles featuring expensive art museums designed by Ai Wei Wei and a string of spectacular new infrastructure projects all going up in a relatively remote corner of the country, I was intrigued to find out more.

The city had gotten a lot of press 8 or 9 years ago but news stories had dried up since. Back then western media articles tended to hype the spectacle of Ordos being a colossal failure in urban planning. The Chinese media on the other hand tended to contradict those claims and expressed a view that the city was in fact growing and flourishing.

I was more interested to see what the city actually looked like today and how it would be to photograph it. I tried to research images from Ordos and found some nice architectural studies by French photographer Raphael Olivier published online from 2015. I was quite surprised to find that relatively few other photographers had made any work there since and felt there must be more to explore. I planned a trip with my camera intrigued about what I would find.

I hired a local taxi driver and spent four days photographing the new city district of Kangbashi and its outskirts. I wanted to capture a broad overview of the city as if from the planner's perspective, so used a drone for aerial observations. From the drones vantage point I was able to scout further points of interest where I would take my camera and tripod to photograph.

Although not exactly empty it was noticeably quiet in the city center. The fringes of the city where the desert sands were re-claiming stalled construction sites best portrayed the tension between the natural landscapes and the man made environments which became a recurring theme throughout the photographs. There was a  timeless quality to these unfinished developments slowly being retaken by the desert sands. 

My driver was keen to tell me about the local history and how the city had changed unrecognisably from his youth. He explained in his view how the younger generation was far better off materially than his but lamented the fact they only knew how to drive cars and play on their smartphones. He told me when he was a child everyone owned a horse and would ride to school and back, in spite of his sadness for the loss of his traditions he was not totally opposed to the rapid urban development of his region. He seemed to feel estranged in this new world but not lost. He was certain of one thing; that the world he had grown up in was gone forever.