Author: Michael Hardy
Luca Campigotto counts Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner as one of his greatest aesthetic influences. Look at the Italian-born photographer's images and it's easy to see the impact. His lavishly produced books of nighttime photography like Gotham City contain visions of what the 1982 sci-fi classic might've looked like if it took place in present-day New York instead of the Los Angeles of the future. But a few years ago, while in China working on his latest book, he got the opportunity to photograph a city unlike any he'd ever captured before.
"I met a guy who asked if I wanted to go to Chongqing," Campigotto recalls. "I said, 'What is Chongqing?' He said, 'It’s the biggest city in the world.'"
Officially created in 1997, Chongqing sprawls across 950 square miles of Sichuan Province and has a population of over 30 million people, making it by some measures the world’s most populous city. But it’s also just one of China's 15 or so megacities—urban centers of 10 million or more—that have sprung up, in some cases almost ex nihilo, over the past few decades. They’re the result of one of the biggest human migrations in history wherein hundreds of thousands of Chinese citizens are moving from the countryside into cities.
Campigotto documents Chongqing, along with dozens of other locations across China, in his recently published book Iconic China. His reason for choosing China may have been mundane—"I was 54, and I felt guilty that I’d never been"—but the photographs are anything but. Using a large-format digital camera, Campigotto captures stunning images of sites ranging from the glowing Shanghai skyline to claustrophobic Hong Kong apartment towers to Beijing’s futuristic architecture.
To his surprise, Campigotto was never hassled by the police, as he has been in nearly every other country he’s visited. The only time he had a problem was when he tried to shoot from the top-floor observation deck of his Shanghai luxury hotel, which prohibited him from using a tripod.
Campigotto came away from the project with ambivalent views about China. "The cities have incredible architecture and unreal locations," he says. "The thing that disappointed me is that, whenever I travel, whether it’s in the Middle East or South America, I always look for something genuine. In China I didn’t find anything genuine. Everything is brand new, renovated, shiny."
The one exception, ironically enough, was Hong Kong—the original "city of the future" and one of the inspirations for Blade Runner. "It was the newest city 20 or 30 years ago," Campigotto notes. "So now it actually looks a little old."