Why Kodak apologized to China over an Instagram post

Updated: July 22nd, 2021 11:40 AM IST

After complaints from China, Kodak deletes a post on its Instagram account of images by photographer who called Xinjiang an ‘Orwellian Dystopia’ and apologizes for any misunderstanding or offense

Why Kodak apologized to China over an Instagram post Photo

After public backlash in China, the American company dropped an Instagram post featuring images of a region where accusations of human rights violations have drawn intense scrutiny.

The American company Eastman Kodak has deleted an Instagram post featuring images of Xinjiang, a western Chinese region where the government is accused of grave human rights violations, after an online backlash from Beijing’s supporters.

The post was promoting the work of the French photographer Patrick Wack, who made several trips to Xinjiang in recent years and has collected his images into a book. The project received a lift last week when Kodak shared 10 of his images — all shot on Kodak film — with its 839,000 Instagram followers.

In the Kodak post and on his own Instagram account, Mr. Wack described his images as a visual narrative of Xinjiang’s “abrupt descent into an Orwellian dystopia” over the past five years. That did not sit well with Chinese social media users, who often object vociferously to Western criticism of Chinese government policies. In addition to deleting the post, Kodak apologized for “any misunderstanding or offense” that it might have caused.

Kodak is not the first international company to apologize for perceived transgressions over Xinjiang, where Western politicians and rights groups say that Uyghurs and other Muslim minority groups have been subjected to forced labor and genocide by the Chinese government.

Now Kodak is facing criticism online not only from Chinese social media users, but from people in the West who still see its products as the industry gold standard for analog photography.

“A company working in photography should not have been afraid to take a stand on a project that’s so important for human rights,” said Ariane Kovalevsky, the Paris-based director of Inland Stories, an international cooperative of 11 documentary photographers, including Mr. Wack.

“So for them, one of the main actors historically in photography, to say they don’t want to be political is what’s upsetting so many people,” said Mr. Wack, who lived in China for 11 years and is now based in Berlin.

Mr. Wack grew up outside Paris and has taken pictures on assignment for The New York Times and many other Western publications. His book, “Dust,” will be released in October by André Frère Éditions, a publisher in the French city of Marseille.

The book includes photographs he took in Xinjiang from 2016 to 2019, along with essays by academic experts on the region and the journalist Brice Pedroletti, the former China bureau chief for the French newspaper Le Monde. Many of the pictures show construction sites amid muted, dusty landscapes; Mr. Wack has said that the book captures the “uneasy” relationship between local residents and settlers from China’s majority Han ethnic group.

The first part of the book is based on analog pictures from 2016 and 2017, and drawn from “Out West,” a series in which Mr. Wack tries to draw visual parallels between the Chinese government’s settlement of Xinjiang and the westward expansion of the United States.

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