China is often portrayed as either a series of glittering metropolises or a great expanse of poverty-stricken countryside, with the not-so-hidden hand of a powerful government manipulating it all. But as a country of more than 1.3 billion people, China is obviously much more than these reductive narratives. And when American photographer Rian Dundon moved there over a decade ago for a teaching job, he found himself wanting to capture this.

(Rian Dundon)

(Rian Dundon)

The California native spent six years, from 2005 to 2011, living in the southern province Hunan, in and around a city called Changsha, which is home to more than seven million people.

(Rian Dundon)

(Rian Dundon)

As a complete outsider to the area, Dundon took his time immersing himself in the local culture through a process he referred to as "deep hanging out": He frequented karaoke bars, night clubs, pool halls, and restaurants, getting to know fellow twenty- and thirty-somethings. As he developed personal relationships, he began documenting the intimate quotidian moments of his friends' lives, joining in on networking dinners, attending reunions, hitting up neighborhood drinks, and even slipping into bedrooms.

"I thought that I might be able to add some nuance to that usually very binary take of [China as a story of either] success or government persecution," Dundon tells The Week in an interview. "I thought that maybe we could exist somewhere between."

(Rian Dundon)

(Rian Dundon)

Dundon amassed such a collection of photos during his time in Hunan that he turned an edited selection into a book, simply titled Changsha, which came out in 2016. Changsha presents an overlooked portrait of a China — young people work, play, sharpen, and blur in an anonymous cityscape that feels simultaneously dull and dizzying. They appear proud and exhausted, in control and yet mired by an ambiguous, underlying strain.

"It kind of commented on the anonymity of these places or the invisibility of these places," Dundon says of the book's name. "Outside of Beijing and Shanghai and Hong Kong, no one knows anywhere else in China."

(Rian Dundon)

(Rian Dundon)

"China was and continues to be a pretty tumultuous social landscape," Dundon says. "Physically, cities are being torn down and rebuilt and regenerated and abandoned on a scale and a rate that's hard to kind of compare in a place that's much newer and less densely populated like the United States. I think that can take a toll on people emotionally and spiritually when you live in a place that's constantly churning."

Dundon's intimate photographs embody this movement. His frame bends and tilts along with his subjects as they navigate the rapid development swirling around them. "I think that's what I was trying to get at — the politics of getting by."

Though the series began more than a decade ago, Dundon believes the meaning behind the photographs transforms as the country does.

"I think maybe it might have more of an audience or more impact in 20 years time as almost historical pictures," he says. "There's no end to this, and there's no beginning. It's just a time and place and one weird guy with a camera who happened to be there."

(Rian Dundon)

(Rian Dundon)

(Rian Dundon)

(Rian Dundon)

(Rian Dundon)

(Rian Dundon)

**The complete Changsha, which contains over 100 photographs, is published by Modes Vu and available for purchase on Amazon. For more of Rian Dundon's work, visit his website. Dundon is also the photography editor at Timeline.**