As a sub-zero blizzard raged outside, Ronghui Chen pushed open a glass window to let in a gust of cold air.
He was in Yichun, a faded boomtown in northeastern China, where in December, 2016 he began photographing young people whose isolation he recognized in his own life. “This kind of heating puts people into the most lethargic state, depriving them of the ability to reflect,” he later said in a phone interview. At the same time, he also finds it frightening to become emotionally hardened like ice underfoot in the northeastern regions that made up China’s Rust Belt. “I feel that many people, like the land itself, are making themselves freeze.”
Over three successive winters, he worked on “Freezing Lands,” a collection of large-format photographs that explores contrasts. The cold conveyed the desolation of towns and cities whose populations are shrinking as people leave the region for education and work in bustling cities, just as Mr. Chen had done himself. The young residents spent their winters in warm and brightly painted interiors, uncertain about the future.