Patrick Wack · Out West

Jul 05, 2021

Patrick is a French photographer focused on long-term documentary projects who has worked for several years in the Xinjiang region of Western China. As part of his forthcoming monograph 'DUST', 'Out West' is the first part of a series that portrays the Uyghur culture, its land and the struggles that is facing. These beautifully composed images show the hard conditions in which these communities live together with the arrival of modernity and industrialisation.

am - First of all thank you very much for your contribution to our project. Can you please introduce yourself for us?

PW - French photographer Patrick Wack (b. 1979) grew up in the suburbs of Paris. After a career in sports and studies in economics and foreign languages in Paris, the US and Sweden, he left a job in Berlin to start again as a photographer in China. Fully self-taught, he was based in Shanghai from 2006 to 2017 where he worked freelance for international publications and commercial clients. He also focuses on long-term personal projects mixing the traditional documentary approach with a more subjective and contemplative storytelling. His work has addressed topics such as repression of minorities, urban mutations, post-conflict reconstruction or environmental issues. His reportages have been published in 'Time magazine', 'The New York Times', 'Geo France', 'The Sunday Times' and 'Vanity fair' among others. His work has been exhibited in solo shows in China, Germany, Singapore, France and the US. Among other awards, he was a 'PDN photo' annual winner and 'French Bourse du Talent' laureate in 2018, has received 1st prize at the 'KL Photo Awards' and was a laureate of the 'Albert-Kahn' grant in 2019 and of the 'CNAP' grant for documentary photography in 2020. He is currently based in Berlin.


am - - How did you start in photography?

PW - I first picked up a camera after a year abroad in the US, when I was about 21. I was frustrated with not recording all the experiences and encounters from that year, and I also wanted to start something creative. The world of photography had been around the house when I was younger as my father had been the manager of a photo lab in Paris. There were a few photo books I had been quite mesmerized with, we went to see photo exhibitions and there was his old Nikon. It came naturally to pick it up. After my studies were over and scared to start going the normal path I decided to leave everything and go to China to start as a photographer.

am - What is 'Out West' about?

PW - The book is called 'DUST' and gathers two projects shot in the Uyghur region of Xinjiang. 'Out West' is the first one shot in 2016/2017 and 'The Night Is Thick' was shot in 2019.

The monograph 'DUST' gathers four years of work by French documentary photographer Patrick Wack shot in the areas of Central Asia known as East Turkistan or Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region under the current Chinese administration.

In recent years, the region has been at the centre of an international outcry following the mass-incarceration of its Uyghur population and other Muslim minorities. This body of work captures a visual narrative of the region and is a testimony to its abrupt descent into an Orwellian dystopia.

In 2016 and 2017, Wack spent more than two months in Xinjiang photographing 'Out West', his first long-term project about the region. He decided to return in 2018, upon reading reports of the mass arbitrary detention system being set up there. In 2019, he travelled to Xinjiang on two separate occasions for another project, 'The Night Is Thick'. This second reportage aimed at documenting life under acute repression among the Uyghur minority alongside the disturbing simultaneous increase of Han-Chinese tourism in the region.

These images have been widely published and exhibited over the past four years, illustrating the situation in the region, and have received numerous accolades. Recent events in Xinjiang are now considered some of the most severe crimes against humanity currently unfolding in the world and this project is possibly the most complete photographic documentation of the region in recent years.


am - What was your motivation behind this project?

PW - The first intent was to document a part of China that didn't look like the China we are used to see. I had been in China for 10 years already at the time and wanted to go west. Xi Jinping's New Silk Road policy was pushing the development towards the country's Western confines and it seemed the right time to document this region, so different visually and culturally from the rest of the country. I wanted to see if I could find there a new mythology, that of a Chinese conquest of the West, reminiscent of America's 'Manifest Destiny'. But I soon realized romanticism was no longer possible in Xinjiang, repression was going full blast and camps were being set up to intern the local Muslim communities. The project then became political.


am - Who are your favourite photographers / artists?

PW - So many to name... Nadav Kander, Stephen Shore, Philip Lorca di Corcia, Guy Bourdin, Terrance Mallick and anything related to 'Northern Mississippi Blues'.


am - What is your favourite photo book?

PW - Nadav Kander's 'The Long River'.


am - Regarding photography, what are your plans, are you preparing new projects?

PW - I've been working on a project in Bosnia-Herzegovina since 2019 and also one on the Sea of Azov. I'm heading back to both places this summer.


am - Thank you very much for your time and your contribution to analog magazine.

All images © Patrick Wack


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