When you slow down

The days have been dreary here in Shanghai. Nasty wet, grey gloom and all-round chilly.

That afternoon, I had descended into a mood I couldn’t get out of. I was hunting, in vain as it turned out, a particular mural of Mao in a part of town that was being swiftly destroyed.

Nothing seemed to work, photography-wise. Suddenly, everything looked the same. Old houses bereft of life, dirty markets and spitters everywhere. Why am I photographing this? Do I care?

By then, a cold wind had picked up which only exacerbated my fatigue.

Throwing in the towel, I sat down by a small alley bend along 黄家路 (Huangjia Lu) to pack up my equipment.

That’s when I noticed the traffic. Chatty passers-by on foot, some in a hurry, others in a casual amble. Two-wheeled traffic was sounded by clanging bicycle chains, the low rumble of scooters and the occasional rapid honk. At one point, a confused and shiny BMW inched its way through.

And so, I sat by the curb for a half hour, just watching.

Every minute was different and I felt myself in some kind of timelapse experiment. Some gave me lingering stares while others barely registered me while zipping through the alley bend.

I clicked away at a variety of f-stops just for the heck of it. At one point, an old man, his back facing me, urinated against a sink a few feet away.

The day didn’t necessarily right itself, but it did improve when you slowed down to a halt.

February 2010


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