Portuguese photographer Filipe Casaca self-published his new book Blue Mud Swamp, a melancholic view of the city of Dalian in north-eastern China. Dalian was recently classified as 'one of the best cities to live in China' as Casaca reveals in the introduction; prosperity and a plethora of leisure activities make the coastal city attractive to many young, fun-loving Chinese.
The 26 colour images shown as full-page spreads depict a variety of scenes captured throughout the city. The photographs take us from the beach to deserted parking lots, from the public zoo to people lingering in dark passages. Man-made structures and objects are clearly dominating as Casaca zooms in on the signs of deterioration in the supposedly blossoming city. Flaunting any fears of being too literal, the photographer presents us with an old funfair that has gradually transformed into a dumping ground, or a burning wheelbarrow in the streets. Always hinting towards the ephemerality of the artificial city, Casaca is observing the scenery with a melancholy soaked in shades of blue.
The fact that Dalian is a coastal city is crucial to the concept of the project. Not only did the coastline serve as a guideline for the photographic exploration of the city, the deep blue colour of the sea is dominant throughout the book. The picturesque scenes all have a blue undertone and almost evoke the feeling of being underwater, which makes the focus shift slightly from the concrete subject towards a more universal sombre atmosphere. Casaca seems to deliberately put a blue layer between himself and his surroundings, enhancing the feeling of distance and alienation.
Blue Mud Swamp comes in a blue velvet-bound hardcover surface with a tipped-in photo in the front and letterpress on the back. The soft outside of the book seems to stand in contrast to the estrangement aroused by the images inside, but considering the theme of a pleasure-seeking, hedonistic community, its delicacy falls into place. In the very back of the book we find a thin booklet including a short story by writer Mingyu Wu, adding another dimension to the photographic narrative presented by Casaca. Wu tells us of a city where, mysteriously, everything is getting heavier; the people, their houses and the air they breathe, eventually preventing them from leaving. "For us just passing by, there is no danger. It is said that evil needs time to get rooted and distance ends up diluting everything".
Wu's words cast a new shadow upon Casaca's interpretation of the city - after all, he is just a traveller, an outsider looking in, passing through. This might also be what prevents him from really entering into a dialogue with the city and its people, imposing a parting line that emotionally charges the images. His foreignness, on the other hand, provides us with a very personal take on the subject. We see Dalian through Casaca's eyes - through drifting blue haze.
Blue Mud Swamp is available in a limited edition release of 300 copies and can be purchased directly from Casaca's website.