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The Edge of the Earth

Tashkurgan is in the middle of nowhere but on the way to everywhere.

The region lies at the edge of China's eastern frontier in on the border with Tajikistan and Pakistan on the Pamir Plateau two miles above sea level. You can't get much more remote than that.

At the same time, it was an important stop on The Silk Road where it marked the halfway point between Asia and Europe.


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We first saw photographer Li Xinzhao's portraits of this region at the PhotoLA exhibition in February where they stood out from the art photography and the work of legendary US photographers as a rare look into a very foreign world.

Li was in town for the exhibit and told us a little bit about traveling to Xinjiang Province in search of ethnic Tajik nomads.

These nomads live a hard life with little access to electricity or modern medicine, and their culture is fast eroding under the pressures of modernity. The Chinese government is not friendly to their Muslim beliefs, Li said.

"I cannot stop the disappearance of the tribe, but I hope, in a small way, to capture a moment of them before they fade away," Li said.

For the project, Li lugged massive flashbulbs into the most remote region of China and lit her subjects with harsh light to make them stand out from an even harsher landscape.

They are testament to the fact that a story of place lives as much in the eyes of the people who live there as it does in the geography and architecture of a region.

Li went to the region and hired a driver. Together, they set off into the wilderness in search of the nomads. She spent half of her time on the plateau suffering from altitude sickness and malnutrition.

She stayed with families along the way.

"I have an affinity for the culture of the Tajiks in Tashkurgan, as one quarter of my blood is Muslim," Li wrote in her statement about the project. "They welcomed me with open arms and complete trust."

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