When photographer Philipp Rittermann talks about his work, there’s one thing that becomes clear almost right away: passion. A passion that took him on multiple trips to China in the last two years, traveling and photographing the Grand Canal, creating an astounding collection of massive photos in his Emperor’s River project.
“It’s a self generated project that came about when I was invited to show my work in China at a photography biennale. That was my first excuse to go to China; I hadn’t had an opportunity before then. I decided that if I was going to go, I needed to educate myself about it. I came across multiple references to the Grand Canal and it seemed like something to follow. It’s just such a huge country and the Grand Canal would help define my direction; rather than wandering aimlessly for years, and still not really scratching the surface,” Rittermann explained.
The Grand Canal is the world’s largest water project, the beginnings of which date all the way back to 460 BC. “It’s historically, culturally, militarily and economically hugely important in China’s history,” Rittermann said in explaining his decision to follow the river for a combined 10 weeks. “I also figured it would take me through large cites, small cites, rural areas and everything in between, and that this would reveal a pretty comprehensive socio-economic cross section of eastern China today.”
Rittermann wanted to achieve something in these images that he is often fascinated with in photography. “It’s about how photography makes time visible in a way that I can’t experience it,” he explains, describing the technique of capturing and expanding a single moment in time.
“Now is very short and it’s continuously moving, so we, as humans, can never see multiple moments next to each other; we are always in the Now. So by photographing multiple moments, and then putting them together I feel like I can open the curtain a little wider,” he says. “I make multiple passes across these scenes. If there is something interesting happening I might take three or four or five frames in that particular area of the image, and then later figure out which moment I want to reveal. It allows me to composite a time-picture of that scene.”
The collection of images is currently on display at The Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. “It was actually surprising that they wanted to show it. They were the last ones on my list in terms of probability, but the first ones in terms of desirability,” he explains.
In a few weeks the images will make their way to a gallery in San Francisco. “I would like it if the framed work never came back to me for storage,” Rittermann explained with a laugh, “because they are huge.”
It’s not an understatement either; the printed images are huge, some as long as 10 feet. But what’s even more striking about the photos, all printed by Rittermann on his Canon iPF8100 on LexJet Sunset Fibre Satin, is the incredible detail in each print.
“They’re made out of multiple images which are fused together, so there really is a lot of resolution there. You can get your face right up to them and there is a lot to see. They don’t fall apart when you get up close,” he says. “It’s something I really enjoy about photography… That you can climb into an image and go for a walk in it. My requirement for myself is that I don’t put something on a wall that doesn’t hold up to that kind of scrutiny. There is nothing worse than walking up to an image that looks great at a distance, and goes to mush right in front of your eyes. That’s a letdown.”