Montague Fendt is a Swiss director and cinematographer living in Beijing. After graduation from the University of Zurich with degrees in Film and Sinology, he relocated to the thriving city of Beijing in search of the new and unconventional. His career in China has led him to work on sets of both local and international productions, from film to advertising. In his personal work, he is drawn to the contrasting elements of our dystopian world, anti-heroes in unlikely places, the harsh beauty of urbanism and raw nature alike. He is a dedicated analog photographer and film lover. For over 14 years, China with its vibrant bustle and cultural gaps inspired him to push and find new angles to his work.
Wu Da! (雾大!) translated from Chinese means ‘Heavy Fog’.
It is also the answer you get from most people in the Chinese capital if you ask them
what’s wrong with the sky. However this ‘fog’ has little to do with water droplets in the air.
I was born in the crisp air of Basel, Switzerland, since 2003 I live in Beijing. What initially started as an exchange year during my filmmaking studies ended in a longterm stay and a love/hate relationship with this intriguing city. For the last years I have continuously documented the dramatic changes that happen in China’s controversial capital with my old and trusty film cameras.
Most mornings I wake up to the humming of the air filter in my house. A nowadays very common item for people staying in Beijing over a long period of time. As one would check the daily weather or temperature, in Beijing we check the air quality on our phones. The AQI (air quality index) is measured at various parts of the city and gives a detailed map of the dreadfulness and direction of the smog.
On bad days we take the necessary steps, close all windows, get the pollution masks out and turn our air filters to their maximum setting. Still the little icon on the air filter’s lcd usually shows a frowning face. I cannot but ask myself, is this our world’s future? It already is daily life in China’s capital for about two-thirds of each year.
The AQI is a scale from 0-500 measuring various pollution particles in the air. As a comparison, an average day in my hometown Basel reaches around AQI 10/500, a heavily polluted day in Los Angeles will reach as high as 150/500. The yearly average in Beijing is around 179, with some record values of 879/500, cracking the scale in a scary manner. On a polluted day, a surreal array of colors fills the sky. Acidic orange, eerie green, faint yellow and lots of lots of gray.
From a visual perspective, there is a strange beauty within the smog. An intriguing soft light that covers things almost like in a winter storm. The famous PM 2.5 particles make for quite interesting photography. ‘Wu Da!’ series is not only documentation, it is also a study of colors, textures and contrast. Vast cityscapes and modern architecture drowning in the mist, a whole palette of interesting shadings and layers.
I spent many weeks climbing around on rooftops, sneaking around office hallways, bribing elevator operators, finding vantage points of interesting architecture to create a smog inspired photo series. All of the photographs are shot on 120 celluloid film, none of them are graded or tampered with. I wanted to achieve a very pure look and show the smog in a realistic and documentary photography way. No filters, cropping or adjusting in any way, just classic photography. The photographs are named after the AQI of the moment they were taken.
The current format of the ‘Wu Da!’ project is large prints (100cm x 80cm) on high-quality archive paper. It is foremost a personal project of mine but some of the prints have been exhibited on climate change related forums and in a couple of galleries. I hope to exhibit ‘Wu Da!’ further if the chance presents itself, continue on raising awareness about our cities’ smog problems and also share Beijing’s strangely dreamy vistas with other photography enthusiasts.
To view more of Montague’s work please visit his website.