David Cameron spent last week in China trying to stake Britain's claim to a piece of the Chinese ecomonic boom. One man who knows all about China's rapid industrial growth is the acclaimed Israel-born, UK-based photographer, Nadav Kander.
His prize-winning series of photos, Yangtze, The Long River Series, 2006-07, which document the rapidly changing landscape and communities along the Yangtze, from its mouth to source, is currently on show in London. They were taken during five trips to the Far East in 2006-7. "Each trip lasted about two weeks," says Kander. "Had I travelled most of the 4,000 miles in one trip I would have come back with National Geographic-type pictures, which was not my intention. I wanted to keep my eyes fresh. You feel such an outsider in China and I wanted to capture that feeling."
The photos reflect on the pace of development along the river, on whose banks more people live than in the entire United States. What were Kander's aims in taking them? "I am never interested in beauty for its own sake," he admits. "I am conscious of the palm print of man on his environment. In China I could record the unbelievable, unrelenting pace of movement forward in this troubled land where people have been pushed aside in turmoil. It was the perfect place to find beauty in the banal. Those are the sorts of landscapes I enjoy."
Kander was born in 1961 in Tel Aviv, but raised in South Africa after his family emigrated there when he was three. His interest in photography started when he was a small boy. "I can remember a cupboard on the landing," he recalls. "Inside was a beautiful leather case containing a cine camera with its chrome knobs. You would wind it up and hear it whirr. I was struck by the beauty of the mechanics, the watch-like precision. It was the workings of the cameras that I loved and that was how I got interested."
He started taking his own pictures at the age 13. "I used a Pentax camera I bought with my barmitzvah money," he says. "I still have that camera today. For the first time I found something I was good at and got attention for my photos. The pictures that I took then and until I was 17, though unaccomplished, have the same sense of quiet and unease that is part of my work today."
The barmitzvah boy with a Pentax has developed into one of the world's most respected photographers. Last year, Kander, who lives in London with his wife and three children, won not one, but two major prizes. He was awarded the Prix Pictet by the former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan - a £60,0000 prize given for photographs that communicate powerful messages of global environmental significance. And he was named International Photographer of the Year at the prestigious Lucie awards for his series portraying members of President Obama's administration.
Commissioned by The New York Times, the series comprised images of the 52 principle members of Obama's White House. "I decided to photograph everyone in a similar way so we could see the small differences, the way their jaws were clenched or the different ways they held their hands," Kander says.
More recently, he worked with the pop band Take That on the cover of their latest CD, Progress. Working with celebrities or on advertising campaigns presents very different challenges. "The huge difference with commercial work is that it is a collaboration," he says, "but I love coming together with interesting people and taking ideas further. I try not to be frightened to explore different styles."