Archive for March 26th, 2010


Behind the Camera: Katya Knyazeva on Documenting Old Town (老城厢)


Katya Knyazeva is a journalist, book designer and fine artist from Russia. Her illustrated books and graphic novel have been published in Korea, and a book about Shanghai’s Old Town is on the way. She writes about cuisine, culture and urban form, and documents Shanghai’s neighborhoods using vintage cameras. For 3.5 years, Katya has been dedicated to capturing details of the city’s historical houses and its facades, researching its history and sharing it with the public. 


1. Your photostream reflects years of discovery and research of Old Shanghai architecture and way of life. When and how did you get into documenting places and their details? 

KK: Nighttime photo-walks became a habit a few years ago when I lived in Korea. Superficially, Korean cities seem like an endless replication of same elements: apartment compounds, clean embankments, sodium streetlights. But I remember the first time I wandered around with a camera and stumbled on a hillside community of improvised gardens, with terraces made from old doors, discarded television sets and copper funnels. This turned my companion and me into ‘flaneurs.’ Every night, we’d bring a camera, take the subway to a different stop and go wandering around with a camera, getting entangled in a strange neighborhood. Each time we lost our way, we found surprises. When we moved to Shanghai, we just continued to do the same thing. 

2. What other aspects of street photography do you focus on? 

KK: Compared to Korea, Shanghai has such luscious and diverse city landscape, sometimes in a single image you can trace years of the history of a house or a street corner. Human habitation is a natural force, just like erosion, and I’m drawn towards neighborhoods and buildings that show the effects of long years of adaptation. It’s only recently that I’ve become a little more systematic, especially regarding artifacts of old Chinese culture in the former walled city. 

3. How do people generally react to your presence and intentions when you’re photographing? 

KK: Being able to speak some Chinese opened many doors – and closed some. Once I barged into the beautiful Writers’ Association mansion on Julu Lu (巨鹿路) just with a simple ‘hi’, and the guard had no vocabulary to stop a foreigner. A year later I spoke to him in Chinese and he refused to let us in. Frankly, the poorer or more precarious the neighborhood, the more gracious, curious and welcoming are the residents. 


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March 2010