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

8 Responses to “A Photographer’s Eviction from the house on Yulin Road”

  1. June 17, 2010 at 10:55 am

    I bet that the last shot was definitively worse the risk !
    The colorful image of the little girl blowing bubble in this dilapidated room gives a very strong feeling. Well done !
    — Woods

  2. June 17, 2010 at 12:40 pm

    Oh, I’m sure he did. You can have such a winning smile.

    Take care.


  3. June 17, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Aye, ti’s a film scene, to be sure, matey!

    I can just imagine it happening, though, SAT, though I believe I speak for our entire little Revolutionary Collective when I say we’re beginning to get slightly worried about you as you gobble up ever-increasing multiples of risk. I realize this is entirely necessary given how it is your life’s work, but perhaps you’ll consider carrying about some mace, a brass pair of knuckle dusters, or perhaps ask that cat from a few snaps back to temporarily borrow his nunchukus, in case any guano hits the proverbial fan at some stage with one of those Anhui-bred security guards?

    A Concerned EU Fan

    • June 18, 2010 at 9:20 am

      Ha, thanks for the concern, Adam. But guards generally won’t touch a female and contact rarely extends beyond a bit of shoving. Granted you see fistfights on the streets, it’s mostly men. Hence, no need to carry protection. I’m quite safe.

  4. June 24, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    Wow.. really wanna check out this place.. !

    • June 24, 2010 at 7:08 pm

      Hey Kirk! Do wander by, but if you want to shoot, don’t carry your gear too conspicuously. Best to go alone too. Good luck! The first shot is taken from the opposing buildig, you should be able to hike up to the roof with no problem. It’s on Yulin Lu off Dalian Lu. Nearest metro is Yangshupu Lu on Line 4. Be careful and let me know how it works out.

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