Photographer Kevin Bubriski ’75 Praised for Portrait of Vanishing Uyghur Life

By Tom Porter

Acclaimed photographer Kevin Bubriski’s latest book has been described as a glimpse into a lost world, portraying the life and culture of China’s Uyghur community in their historic capital city of Kashgar before the government’s severe crackdown.

Bubriski75 photo of Uyghur bird market in Kashgar 1998
At the bird market. Kashgar, China, 1998. Photo by Kevin Bubriski.

Writing in The Diplomat, photographer and journalist Robert Gerhardt described the book as “a stunning work of art and conscience that reveals a time when Kashgar, beloved city of the Uyghurs, retained much of its traditional life and charm.”

The Uyghurs: Kahsgar before the Catastrophe (GTF Publishing, 2023) features over 120 photographs taken by Bubriski in 1998 during time he spent in Kashgar, situated on the ancient  Silk Road trade route in China’s northwestern Xinjiang region.

Since those photographs were taken, the mostly muslim Uyghur population has suffered under a widespread Chinese government policy of repression, with more than a million being detained in “reeducation” camps and others subjected to intense surveillance and religious restrictions. Most of the old city of Kashgar, meanwhile, has been demolished.

Gerhardt said Bubriski’s images capture the “cultural, economic, familial, religious, and spiritual traditions” of the Uyghurs. “The vibrancy, beauty, and grit of Kashgar and its people that Bubriski witnessed and photographed more 25 years ago has irrevocably changed, making his photographs even more significant,” wrote Gerhardt.

The book also features prose and poetry from Uyghur poet and activist Tahir Hamut Izgil, as well as a historical essay by the late anthropologist Dru Gladney. Texts are presented in both English and Uyghur.

bubriski photo of kashgar street
Residential neighborhood in the old city before demolition. Kashgar, China, 1998. Photo by Kevin Bubriski.

Bubriski, who majored in visual arts, returned to Bowdoin College in October 2023 to talk about his work, some of which was featured in last year’s Bowdoin College Museum of Art exhibition People Watching: Contemporary Photography since 1965.

Read more about Bubriski’s visit to campus in The Bowdoin Orient.