About This Project

Blank Lands
Directed by: Alessandro Galluzzi, Federico Peliti, Luca Tommasini
Authors: Alessandro Galluzzi, Federico Peliti, Luca Tommasini
Director of Photography: Alessandro Galluzzi
Cameraman: Alessandro Galluzzi
Steadycam: Alessandro Galluzzi
Production: Nacne
Coproduction: Mandarin Film (China), AVROTROS, ICTV
with the support of : MEDIA Programme
Year: 2014


All ages and histories have their Blank Lands, territories not plotted on maps, featureless in common consciousness or arousing suspicion and prejudice.
The Blank Lands of China in the 30’s were remote regions of the western borders, in the collective Chinese imagination inhabited by ‘barbarian cannibals’. Yet a young photographer, Zhuang Xueben, chose to recount passionately the story of these lands and those times.
In this documentary we will follow in the footsteps of Zhuang, travelling through the blank lands to rediscover a history oftentimes shrouded in mystery, adventure and emotion, and revealed intimately by the people that live there.
This trip will involve people separated by thousands of miles, united only by their passion for the complex figure of Zhuang Xueben, whose memory had remained in the shadows for nearly 40 years. Those who today contribute to the rediscovery of his body of work will explore its connections with historical events and reveal its anthropological value, in addition to simply praising how the photographs and diaries are able to create an intense bond between past and present. Their contribution will progressively outline the figure of Zhuang, opening windows of reflection that goes beyond his life and times.
His diary, written during his first trip in 1934 and read by his son as voice over, comes to life once again, creating an imaginary bridge to the past, through remote areas of China and the contrasts of modernity, to discover the rich mosaic of cultures and minorities who still live there today, and finally ends between the steep mountains of Sichuan, to meet an old woman photographed by Zhuang almost 80 years before. But this documentary not only focuses on the narration of the life of a turn of the century photographer, but it is also a journey into a space where fragments of memory and new visions are intertwined, giving back the power and timeless quality of Zhuang Xueben’s work.



Tutte le epoche e storie hanno le loro terre bianche, territori non tracciati sulle mappe, che suscitano diffidenza e pregiudizi. Le terre bianche della Cina degli anni ’30 erano le remote regioni al confine col Tibet, abitate nell’immaginario collettivo da “barbari cannibali”. Sarebbero state raccontate con passione da un giovane fotografo dell’epoca, Zhuang Xueben.
Dal 1934, in un periodo in cui la fotografia in Cina era praticata solamente in studio, Zhuang esplorò zone abitate da un ricco mosaico di gruppi etnici, svelandole con fotografie e diari di viaggio nell’arco di 10 anni. La sua opera ebbe all’epoca una vasta diffusione, ma il suo nome e il suo lavoro sparirono negli anni ’60, cancellati dal caos della Rivoluzione Culturale. Quarant’anni dopo, grazie al figlio e a un piccolo gruppo di
studiosi, le sue foto sono riemerse alla luce.
In Blank Lands le parole dei diari di Zhuang Xueben tornano in vita, come guida in un odierno viaggio a stretto contatto con le etnie che raccontò 80 anni fa, e le sue fotografie diventano il mezzo attraverso cui il figlio e gli altri protagonisti, ne svelano finalmente la complessa figura.

Documentary, Video