#ChinaGrams: The Surreal Sculptures of Yelang Valley with Photographer Guan Nan

This valley is an artist's homage to an ancient tribe that all but vanished

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4:14 PM HKT, Tue June 18, 2019 1 mins read

#ChinaGrams is when we feature a photographer taking incredible shots of China on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram or get in touch for the chance to have your work featured.

This week, let Chinese-German photographer Guan Nan guide you through the surreal sculptures and rock towers of Yelang Valley, near Guiyang in southwestern China — an artist’s homage to a tribe that all but vanished from the face of the earth.


The Yelang were an ancient people that once populated the Yunnan and Guizhou plateaus, and whose sudden disappearance around 26 BCE is still a mystery. Inspired by the myth and ambiguity surrounding the forgotten tribe, artist Song Peilun set out to create a monumental structure dedicated to them.

Guan recalls:

“I was having dinner with an artist friend of mine in Shanghai, who was about to join an artist residency program at Yelang Valley. When he showed me photos of the site, I was stunned. How had I never heard of this before? Who made this, and why?”

She writes that Song and his team of local masons have been building this “utopia” by hand for over twenty years. Today, the 79-year-old artist does not believe he will see his life’s work completed.

On capturing the fleeting, blink-and-you-miss it moments that shape documentary photography, Guan says:

The ability to anticipate an action or a slight turn in events is so valuable — in a way, it’s like looking into the future. Before you press the shutter, there is a moment where your mind’s eye goes for a little time sprint and waits for an image that isn’t yet there.

“Unlike video, photography requires you to be that deliberate. You can’t just go back and select from a bunch of frames. If you didn’t capture that particular moment, it’s gone forever.”


View this series and more photos on Guan’s Instagram.

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