Posts Tagged ‘street photography

05
Aug
10

The Tale of a Skaterboy

My first encounter with 万成(Wan Cheng), he yelled at me to mind my manners.

The second time I spoke with him, I had asked him to remove his shirt for me.

Let me explain.

I had spotted the group of skateboarders one weekend at The Love Park, south of the Shanghai Concert Hall (上海音乐厅南广场), and naturally began photographing from the sides. A tall, lanky boy called out sharply, “If you want to photograph us, at least ask for permission!”

That was Wan Cheng.

I also spotted several tattoos on some of the young men. Not body tapestry like what we’d imagine on a Japanese yakuza or Hong Kong 古惑仔 (gu wai zai in Cantonese), but more modest and minimal.

One in particular stood out. The same lad who called me out the first time had a face tattooed on his shoulder blade. I returned the following week, psyching myself for some major attitude and potential rejection. Amusingly enough, I approached a group of lads and asked around to their bewilderment, “Err, do you have a tattoo on your back. No, not you? What about you? Can I lift up your shirt? No, okay.” Surprisingly, after I explained myself to Wan Cheng, his curious scowl turned into a smile and all was well with the universe.

That’s when I asked him to take his shirt off.

It turned out that the tattoo was of his mother. She lives in Nanjing and as he was busy working in Shanghai, rarely visits her. He decided to permanently ink her portrait on himself. Or rather, it was a portrait of her when she was 22. “Sure, I miss her sometimes,” he said.

The tattoo process took 3 hours given its size. “It was definitely very painful.” he winced, absently rubbing his back at the memory. The affected skin peeled for a few weeks after as it slowly healed.

He volunteered a picture of his mother that he carried in his wallet, carefully pulling out with grimy hands. The young woman in the studio portrait had a small smile and her hair in a tidy plait over the shoulder, a hairstyle reminscent of the time period.

When Wang Cheng grinned, I was startled by how mother and son looked remarkably alike with their small eyes and straight teeth.

Surrounding boys clamoured around us, wanting to have a look as well. A few teased and some guffawed but not in a disrespectful way, I could tell one younger boy was a bit confused by the whole situation.

Would anyone dare utter ‘mother’s boy’ in the situation? I doubt it. Risk Wan Cheng smashing his skateboard over your head? I’m merely kidding. But he did fling his skateboard into the bushes out of frustration when he couldn’t quite master a maneuver. He lost a wheel in the process and had to retire for the afternoon.

I’ve kept in contact with Wan Cheng since then, updating him with the last story and clarifying facts of skateboarding in China. I asked him how his skateboarding friends felt about my last blog post on them. He said, “In the public’s eye, we are all bad boys. There aren’t too many who try to understand us. They’d be pleased.”

Read more stories on Shanghai’s skaterboys here.

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03
Aug
10

Skaterboys

I was “chasing” 4 o’clock shadows at the intersection of 金陵东路 (Jinling Dong Lu) and 西藏南路 (Xizhang Nan Lu) when I heard a loud whoops and whooshes of skater wheels on concrete coming from a distance.

In a large square behind the Shanghai Concert Hall (Update: I have been kindly informed that the area is also called The Love Park (LP among sb folks)), a group of sweaty young men were practicing a variety of maneuvers with utmost seriousness. It was a mixed crowd of mostly amateurs diligently mastering the basics: the “Ollie”, “kickturns”, “board slides”, “kickflips” before graduating to more intermediate moves. (for an always educational list of skateboarding terms, refer here)

They checked in with each other’s progress. “你的Ollie 还这么样吗?” (“How is your Ollie coming along?”) (“Yea, still getting there.” “Which maneuver are you up to now?”)

From a distance, a tall, skinny boy in a purple tee with zig-zags and black skinny jeans was riding out momentum to “air” (ride all 4 wheels in the air) over a set of steps while tapping the board into a full rotation. The result sent him into a full-bodied sprawl on the ground. Sensing no bodily damage, he was up and about repeating the maneuver.

At one point, as I began photographing them, a topless and tough-looking boy eyed me from a distance. “If you want to shoot us, don’t make us look bad.” I was a little perplexed by this and asked what he meant by that. He shrugged and said, “Nothing, as long as you think there’s no problem, we’re cool.” Losing all interest in my presence, he went back to his skateboard.

I sat on the sides and began observing the crowd’s reaction to them. Some curious passers-by would slow down, others simply cut right through their activity without a blink of an eye. The occasional young lass in a short skirt always created a pause in all skateboarding activity for an appreciative gaze.

Children were the most intrigued. At one point, a mother tugged at her son who stood riveted by the skaterboys, “Look at them.” She sneered. “If you don’t do well in school, this is what happens to you.” The young child grinned to himself at the possibility, probably not the best parenting move.

Han Minjie or Jeff Han, considered the “father of skateboarding in China” (more about him next time), once said that the perception of skateboarding in China is still too ‘underground’ (rebellious, individual, dangerous).

It made me think of William Blake’s great quote, “If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is – infinite”. While we were in a public space, the typical passer-by knew little about the skaterboys and what they were about.

Maybe it was because they looked a little intimidating with their tattoos and body scars from too much practice, but listening to the skateboarders discuss at length techniques and paraphernalia with the seriousness of an engineer, it’s hard to be negative.

Just then, the sound of flesh and bones connecting, once again, with concrete caught my attention. I winced. A young amateur sitting next to me stared at the boy in question dust himself off and said to no one in particular, “Man, I wish I could do that.”

July 2010

22
Jul
10

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.

Website: http://www.yingphotography.com/

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’

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.
07
May
10

Photographing children in China

 

Part of a series of portraits of strangers in Shanghai.

Their parents were more than generous in letting a 50mm lens hover so close to their children and sharing with me, details of how they were spending their day. In Shanghai, you always see a family of 3, rarely more.

One thing I’ve noticed about photographing children in China is the willingness, almost pride, that most parents have in allowing you to do so. Perhaps it is the effect of the one-child policy (not everyone abides by the one-child policy in China, choosing to pay fines for more), that any attention on children is largely welcome.

I’ve seen a fair bit of discussion about privacy and morality issues when it comes to photographing children (in the context of street photography) and placing their photos online in photo forums like Flickr. Many Westerners weighing in, especially male photographers, shy away from doing so for many reasons.

One is the fear of being labeled as some kind of creepy kiddy-fiddler, the other is the general wariness by parents for the very same reason. This has largely to do with the public consciouness of pedophelia cases in the West (not that there aren’t in the rest of the world but cases are recognizably more public in proportion to the societal stigma they carry), awareness of child trafficking and child sex workers in Asia and so on. Terribly grim stuff.

A British commentator remarked in one of the discussions, that looking back to photos from the past World Wars, the best photos showed how civilians adapted to the harrowing conditions of war. The innocence of children, given the times, was an integral element in showcasing the enduring fates and faces of conflict. It seemed a shame that in contemporary times, such pure thoughts cannot exist on their own without being muddied by a darker side.

Too much politically correctness? Where do you draw the line in street photography, of the principles in photographing adults vs children, best when they are completely unaware?

So much electronic ink has been spilled in debating this, that the only conclusion I have is that the individual bears the arbitrating responsibility. Be guided by your conscience and instinct. If at all possible, two rules to abide by is to ask politely and take no for an answer, and extend basic acknowledgment or even offer to send them a photo.

I was quite struck by a recent trip to Shantou and Chaozhou in Guangdong province, of the noticably larger families in Southern cities which have more than one child (Rural residents tend to do the same due to looser implementation).

A Chinese friend explained that it was common for parents to bear a hefty fine (RMB 100k/ USD 14k – a lot for Tier-2 city residents), live modestly, than have restricted family sizes. It could also be the influence of more conservative overseas Chinese with relatives in the South: sons are more important than daughters, two sons are better than one.

But are they happier? I found that larger families had a more relaxed dynamic at meal times and kids were often left alone in houses to run rampant. There is less need to overprotect and more normal for a child to be part of a family unit (extended or otherwise).

A little food for thought on photography in China to kick off the weekend. Do share your views. They are as always, greatly appreciated.

April 2010




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