Archive for the 'Behind the Camera Interviews' Category


Behind the Camera: Tim Franco on Photographing Urban Shanghai

Tim Franco is a Franco-Polish photographer based in Shanghai, working mainly with analog film cameras, particularly on large formats. Among his projects is a comprehensive depiction of the growth of the alternative music scene in China, resulting in “Shanghai Soundbites”, published in 2008. He is also well known for his architectural photography, ranging from his stunning capture of the Shanghai Expo-related Pavilions to his portrayal of Shanghai’s cityscape and skyline that are brought to life through his medium of choice and individual perspective.

Website: (Portfolio) and Flickr

SA: Tell us a bit about the person behind the (multiple) cameras you own. How long have you been in Shanghai and where and when did your love for photography come about?

TF: I have been in Shanghai for a bit more than 5 years, working and studying. I am now doing both photography, mainly documentary focused, and I also do some business where I sell equipment for remote sites around the world. The second part allows me to have a steady income and to travel a lot. I recently work quite a bit with Le Monde (France’s national newspaper) on various documentary as well as editorial (work). My passion for photography comes from my mom who is an artist based in Paris.

Continue reading ‘Behind the Camera: Tim Franco on Photographing Urban Shanghai’


Behind the Camera: 唐颖 Tang Ying on Street Photography

唐颖 (Tang Ying) is a Shanghai native and has studied in Japan and the US. Ying honed her street photography while working in San Francisco as a freelance cameraperson and video editor. She later studied photography at the New York Institute of Photography and the School of Photography of C.C.S.F. Her work has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine and she has worked for The New York Times, IHT and Shanghai TV Magazine. Her street photography is filled with stories that sparkle with action and wit, a reflection of a unique perspective and style.


SA: Tell us more about yourself and your work. How and when did you pick up the camera?

唐颖: 我是在四年前开始街道摄影的,那时我住在旧金山,没有很多的钱投资在摄影器材上,也没有能力到处去旅游,所以我的摄影对象是旧金山的街道,那里的人。我纪录我有兴趣的人和事。不同与其他的摄影,街道摄影不需要有很昂贵的器材,我现在还用同样的器材。用最基本的镜头。我认为照片一定要有故事性才会吸引人,所以我到现在没有更换我的装备还是用同样的镜头和照相机。 我认为街道摄影之所以让我如此着迷也是因为其故事性,人文性,还有无法揣摩的突发性。所以几乎所有的街道摄影者都必须花很多时间和耐心去挖掘所谓的”decisive moment”。

I started street photography four years ago when I was living in San Francisco. I did not have much money to invest in photography equipment, or do much travelling, so my subjects were San Francisco’s streets and its people. I documented people and things that interested me.

Unlike other forms of photography, you don’t need expensive equipment for street photography – I still use the same equipment and basic lenses. I believe that photos must have a narrative element to draw people so I have yet to change my set up. What fascinate me about street photography are the narrative and humanistic elements, and its sudden and unexpected nature. This is why street photographs have to spend a lot of time and have patience to capture that “decisive moment”.

Continue reading ‘Behind the Camera: 唐颖 Tang Ying on Street Photography’


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: (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。


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)’


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. 


Continue reading ‘Behind the Camera: Katya Knyazeva on Documenting Old Town (老城厢)’


Behind the Camera: Howard French of “Disappearing Shanghai”

This is the first of the “Behind the Camera” series. A little background here.

Howard W. French is an associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was the bureau chief of the New York Times’ Shanghai office from 2003-08, as part of a 22-year career as a foreign correspondent. His most widely exhibited work, “Disappearing Shanghai”, documents the life of neighborhoods “doomed to imminent extinction” as he describes it. French’s work is evocative in its quiet dignity and intimacy with his subjects, like one old soul talking to another.


1. You were most recently the bureau chief of the New York Times’ Shanghai office, following many years of reporting all over the world. Now you’re also increasingly known for your photography. Can you tell us how and when your interest in photography started? Did it influence the way you reported your stories?

HF: I was introduced to photography by my father and by a great uncle. Roughly around the same time, say between the ages of 10-12, the one (my Dad) taught me how to develop black and white film in a simple basement darkroom he helped my older brother and I build, and the other (my uncle) gave me a Kodak Retina camera – way prematurely. I’ve been involved with photography ever since, but became serious about it in an applied way for the first time while living in West Africa in the early 1980s. I began working as a freelance journalist there, and in addition to taking pictures for my own purposes, I started doing so to produce images to accompany my articles.

Working as a reporter with other photographers, like Stuart Isett (to name one), in Japan, influenced my photography and my journalism. I learned a lot about slowing down, about coming at a subject from multiple angles, about the importance of self-criticism, about getting closer to people.

2. When you were shooting in Shanghai, how did people react to your presence and intentions? Can you name a particular incident that left a deep impression on you?

HF: The most interesting facet for me of documentary photography has always had relatively little to do with “technique,” in the traditional sense of the word. Yes, one must have a sense of such things, but the barriers to learning the technical aspects involved in this kind of photography are not terribly high, nor for me do they hold great fascination. What most excites me about the kind of work I’ve done in Shanghai instead is rather what I’d call the personal interface between photographer and subject. Finding my style in the street and getting deeper and deeper into my subject matter was a matter of initiation in a whole new world of communication, a largely non-verbal world, that I had scarcely imagined existed beforehand. Lots of photographers, including most beginners, are seduced by longer lenses and by zooms as a way of drawing closer to their subject. I wanted to do the opposite, to restrict my lens choices to fixed optics from the other end of the spectrum, either standard lenses (50mm on SLRs and 80mm on my Rolleiflex) or wide angles. This necessitated learning how to draw closer to my subjects without alarming them, without having them pose or otherwise perform for me, and sometimes, indeed, without even alerting them. Learning to do so begins with great patience, but that only gets you so far. The next steps come by way of body language and other mostly non-verbal stuff. Sometimes it is a matter of conveying a kind of sympathy. Other times one may convey disinterest, or even boredom. Most often, though, it is a matter of giving a sense of belief in what you’re doing; not looking tentative or apologetic, frightened or unsure.

I don’t have a particular image or story to relate to you. What I can say is that my street work often involved lingering in a circumscribed area, a well-defined neighborhood, a specific block, or maybe a street corner, for hours at a time. After a while, people stop paying so much attention to you. If you visit and revisit these places over and over again, as I did, the chemistry begins to change, and all sorts of new possibilities begin opening up for you.

Continue reading ‘Behind the Camera: Howard French of “Disappearing Shanghai”’

All rights reserved

Please do not use content from this website without the author's permission.


Twitter Updates

April 2020