Chongqing, in southwest China, is geographically the country’s largest city. With a population of 36 million people, it’s also China’s largest direct-controlled municipality, meaning it’s basically a mini-province unto itself. And it’s urbanizing at one of the fastest rates of any city in the world. In his photo series “Metamorpolis,” all shot on a Hasselblad medium format camera and just published as a book, Chongqing-based photographer Tim Franco puts a human face on this explosive growth.
Situated between mountains and giant rivers, this growing megalopolis has a unique geography that gives Franco’s photographs a bit of a split personality: in each photo, we see how “concrete is slowly taking over the greenlands,” as Franco writes to Co.Design in an email. Of the 36 million people living in the province of Chongqing, only about 6 million of them actually live in an urban environment, but with new policies of switching important industries from the east coast to central China and the west, the local government wants to urbanize more of the population.
“Millions of farmers are being moved into the urban areas, their lands are being exchanged for apartments and transformed into giant housing complex or new development areas,” Franco says. In his photographs, farmers herd goats and tend to crops on hills with skyscrapers looming in the background; a man in a swimsuit walks down the banks of a river with a massive throughway overhead. “Seeing all those farmlands slowly being surrounded by construction sites and rising towers has been really fascinating to observe, especially in a place where people can’t adapt at the same speed the landscape is changing,” Franco says.
Reporters and policymakers throw around terms like “urbanization” and “industrialization,” but rarely capture the personal stories of people living in rapidly changing cities. Franco’s photographs reveal not only what it looks like, but also what it feels like when a farmer’s cherished land is suddenly converted into an apartment complex.
Preorder the Metamorpolis book here.