Archive for June, 2010

29
Jun
10

Take to the Street (Part 2)

The second of a two-part series of a self-imposed regiment of hip, chest and over-the-shoulder shooting with a 35mm f1.4. Primes are perfect in its speed, restraint and the boundaries you can push with them within those limitations. It’s all about taming plastic and glass into submission.

With a camera, a jaunt turns into a moving picture, capturing a favored Shanghai past-time: shopping.

On weekends, come rain or shine, the city buzzes alive with an even greater need to consume in small and large quantities. The hunger and temptation are palpable. Buy, buy, BUY!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

(Part 1 can be found here.)

25
Jun
10

Take To The Street (part 1)

The weapon of choice is a 35mm f1.4.

The rule, and the only one of the day: no looking through the view finder. Shoot from the hip, the chest and over the shoulder. Whatever.

The journey begins on Nanjing West Lu / Wujiang Lu toward Yongjia Lu / Shanxi South Lu under an innocuous drizzle….

Vodpod videos no longer available.
23
Jun
10

Don’t poke around, but I’ll happily pose

“Good day, sir! How are you doing today?”

Stare.

“Working hard, I see? I’m curious about this site, I hear it’s a former military barrack. Are you all renovating the place?”

Stare. Unblinkingly. Someone else coughs.

“Okay. Mind if I walk around for a bit. The buildings are very interesting!”

Stare. Then, a monosyllabic “No!” in unison.

“Then how about a photo of all of you. It’s a nice day, you can pose for me.”

Blink. Stare. Come to life. “Yes, I’ll stand here. He’ll stand there. I want a full body shot. But wait until I put on all my clothes. No, no, stand a bit further back. When you are done, let me see.”

June 2010

22
Jun
10

Small town Shanghai: Who’s left?

You don’t have to wander too far from Shanghai to find interesting small towns, that is, ones that have not converted into tourist villages of Disneyland proportions.

An hour-long bus ride from Longyang metro stop (龙阳地铁站) on Line 2, deep into Pudong (浦东), we found ourselves in the town of Dayuan (大团镇) in Nanhui (南汇).

Towns in China have developed with a banal similarity common in suburbia America. The same fading welcome signboards, the same layout of buildings, shops and houses populate next to the highway – all of it, engulfed in swirling road dust. There is nothing particularly outstanding about Dayuan town but there was plenty to explore once you push into the interior.

The dynamic of urban and suburban sprawl applies aptly when you compare metropolitan Shanghai and suburban towns like Dayuan. In the town’s older neighborhoods, you see a mix of elderly and children with a conspicuous absence of the robust working age group of 18 to 25. The young and mobile have migrated to the metropolitan cities in search of more interesting work and that bit of excitement.

The elderly living in Dayuan tend to have lived in Shanghai for a long time, some migrating from the city center to the outskirts. They while their time away playing cards or chess, drinking tea, cleaning and strolling on the grounds. They live modestly, sometimes growing their own food, diligently recycling what they can into an accoutrement of knick-knacks like dried leaves as broom bristles or using plastic bottles to store loose grain.

A 15 minute walk off the highway where we were dropped off, we found ourselves in a leafy lane hugged by old houses, new shop fronts and the occasional factory space.

In one of the small lanes, we found an old man making old-style cloth shoes in his living room. He measured pieces of paper on cloth, used glue of his own concoction – entirely organic – and glued the layers together and eventually sewed them by hand and machine. 88 years old, he lived in Shanghai his whole life. His living room was stacked high with rubber soles, scraps of cloth and paper. And while his movements were slow and deliberate, he was still alert and humorous, indulging us in great detail of his craft.

In another old-style Jiangnan (江南) house with curbed rooftips, which once served as a sock production unit decades ago, I found a husband and wife couple quietly snipping away stray threads off bags of socks. When asked if they were still in the business of producing socks, they laughed. No no, the wife said, we just get paid a bit of money to clean up loose ends and pack them before they get shipped out. Their relatives continue the socks production business but at a real factory.

As are most small towns, everyone is friendlier and warmer. Come sit down and have a cup of tea, indulge in a tale or two about the history of their lives or the town.  An old man sang and played his erhu (二胡) for us while another showed us his shockingly large collection of junk electronics harking back to the 60s.

There was no better way to spend the day, under leafy trees in the summer sun. And if you collect stories like me, be it large cities or small towns, the stories are always entertaining yet meaningful.

June 2010

17
Jun
10

A Photographer’s Eviction from the house on Yulin Road

From a distance, the row of European-styled houses stood out along Yulin Lu (榆林路) in Hongkou district (虹口区)– burning brick red against squat shop houses and gleaming condominiums. The place has been designated as a heritage site, according to a plaque that hung outside, which offered little beyond a perfunctory description of “simplified classical style … garden residences” built in 1927.

Inside, more than half the rooms had been abandoned because the wood on the walls and floor had rotted. Signs of previous occupation were rare, save for the occasional celebrity or government poster, and drawings in what was once a children’s nursery. There were also several expired eviction letters taped to doors.

Yet there were persistent stragglers living there, evidenced by dried fish and laundry hanging in the hallways.

On the occasions that I have entered the premise unencumbered, residents left me alone. Once, an old man stared at me blankly from his window above before closing it.

One visit was marked by a dramatic eviction of our own. Exploring the cavernous empty rooms with 2 other photographers (one of whom was 席子 Xi Zi interviewed here), we split up to document the various wings.

I was teetering in a corner of a room whose floor had caved in when I heard aggressive shouting. Peering out of the side of the window, I saw a security guard shoving my friends across the courtyard while they resisted and pleaded to complete some shots. Volumes were raised in a staccato of Shanghainese as arms pushed and pulled. Some residents stared at the drama with little interest.

I crouched back against the wall, clutching my tripod to my chest as my heart beat wildly.  I was determined to finish shooting the abandoned rooms and as long as they didn’t know I existed, I had some time.

I moved swiftly but quietly from one room to another, careful to stay clear of the windows lest I be seen. Just as I hear the main gate slam shut against my friends, I heard someone shout from above,

“There’s still one more! A girl! Find her!”

I froze against the window then surveyed the situation. A resident and guard began striding to the various houses while shouting to their informer, “Where? What floor?!”

After a few jerky shots, I packed up my equipment hoping to find another exit. Barely steps away from the door, I slammed right into one of the guards. We stared, shocked and wide-eyed, at each other. Without thinking, I gave him a bright smile and shook his hand,

“Happy new year, sir! So sorry to bother you. Are you having a good day? So sorry to bother you! Thanks and goodbye.”

I sped walk toward the main gate, while the guards just stood there scratching his head. My friends looked equally confused at my grinning face, and we moved on to another house.

January 2010

15
Jun
10

Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

“Hello. Bag? Watch? Jacket? See this menu, we have everything.”

Try to side-step.

“No thanks.”

“Round the corner only la. Watch? Bag? DVD?”

“No. No!”

Walk faster.

“Come on la. LV? Gucci? Prada? Watch? Ba..”

Start running. Hawker starts fading into the distance. Success!

“Hello. Bag? Watch? DVD?”

“Arghh!! Where do you guys COME FROM?”

June 2010

12
Jun
10

Behind the Camera: 席子(Xi Zi) on documenting Shanghai’s longtang (弄堂) and shikumen (石库门)

席子 (Xi Zi) is part of a group of local photographers actively documenting the fast disappearing neighborhoods of Shanghai. Widely published in China, he is familiar with almost every street in his home city, the history of the neighborhoods and architectural style of the shikumens. With a personal archive of close to 30k photographs, his work reflects a determination to record and keep alive, a conversation about the city’s living history.

Websites: Shanghaimage.com (Admnistrator) Duoban and Flickr (Personal)

*A basic glossary on architectural terms is available here. All notes in parantheses are by the editor.

SA: Tell us a bit more about yourself. How long have you been shooting street photography in China, specifically tracing Shanghai’s old houses and lifestyle?

席子: 之前对摄影完全没有感觉,1997至1999年间曾用只有35万像素的数码相机拍摄上海老建筑和街道,但是没有坚持下去,2007年夏天拍摄正在拆除中的苏州河边百年石库门弄堂-德安里,感慨这个城市变化之快,从此开始记录这个城市即将消失和正在湮灭的老建筑,弄堂和生活在其中的人和物。

我出生在上海,童年直到读小学都在上海,后去中国北方城市安阳,郑州读小学,直到高中回上海读大学,所以可以感受到一些中国南北或者沿海和内地城市的差异。

Initially, I had absolutely no interest in photography. From 1997-99, I used a 350k pixel digital camera to shoot Shanghai’s old buildings and streets, but didn’t continue thereafter. In the summer of 2007, I happened to photograph the demolition process of a hundred year old shikumen in a longtang on Dean Lane along the Suzhou river, and felt that this city was changing so fast. From then, I began to record Shanghai’s old architecture, longtang and its life/people that were about to disappear.

I was born in Shanghai and was here till primary school. I later moved north to Anyang and Zhengzhou cities (in Henan province) where I studied high school, and returned to Shanghai for university. Hence, I have always felt the differences between China’s northern and southern, and inland and coastal cities.

Continue reading ‘Behind the Camera: 席子(Xi Zi) on documenting Shanghai’s longtang (弄堂) and shikumen (石库门)’




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