Mårten Lange searches for a phantom light in China’s metropolis

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Photographed in six of China’s largest cities, Lange’s latest publication imagines a futuristic metropolis, haunted by its past

In the winter of 2018, Swedish photographer Mårten Lange travelled to Shanghai, China, for a three month residency in a colonial-era hotel, located on the Huangpu River, opposite the city’s dazzling skyline. Smoggy, foggy, and rainy, the winter months in Shanghai brought about “a particular kind of light I had never seen before,” says Lange. In the gleam of a skyscraper, or amid sheets of smog illuminated by city lights, Lange began to see the city as a place simultaneously soaring into the future, while being haunted by its past. “It had this ghostly atmosphere around it,” says Lange, “[These images] are about the environment of these megacities, and what they feel like to me”.

Lange’s latest book, Ghost Witness, follows on from his 2017 publication, The Mechanism, a series of black-and-white images made in cities around the world. The work deals with similar themes of globalisation and technology in the urban environment, and “this sense that the future has somehow been cancelled and we’re living in this haunted state at the end of history”. 

© Mårten Lange 2020 courtesy Loose Joints.
© Mårten Lange 2020 courtesy Loose Joints.
© Mårten Lange 2020 courtesy Loose Joints.

Presenting isolated moments captured during solitary walks through China’s urban jungles, Lange’s images question the intersection between China’s history and rapid urbanisation. Photographed in six of its largest cities — Shanghai, Shenzhen, Chongqing, Beijing, Tianjin, and Guangzhou — the book presents sightings of this phantom light, where the sun filters through the smog, or where clusters of LEDs twinkle in the rain. Like the dead coming back to haunt the living, these “small light phenomenon” are like the ghosts of China’s communist past, subtly illuminating the city as the country progresses towards a new future.

Ghost Witness by Mårten Lange is published by Loose Joints.

Marigold Warner

Marigold Warner joined the British Journal Photography in April 2018, and currently holds the position of Online Editor. She studied English Literature and History of Art at the University of Leeds, followed by an MA in Magazine Journalism from City, University of London. Her work has been published by titles including the Telegraph Magazine, Huck, Gal-dem, Disegno, and the Architects Journal.