Posts Tagged ‘Street Stories

03
Sep
10

Buying back old Expo tickets

He stood there holding a small styrofoam board with a bored expression that was only rivaled by the young boy next to him selling ice-cream with his shirt rolled up to his chest.

Apparently, this man was in the business of buying back old mobile phones and transportation cards, amongst other things I’m sure, to recycle and make a bit of profit on the side.

“How come you are buying back old Expo tickets.” I asked, “You selling them online or try to get back into the Expo grounds?” I joked.

The man lazily looked me up and down, “What’s it to you?”

I shrugged. “I have a spare Expo ticket in my pocket to sell, maybe we can talk business. I’m just curious what you do with it, that’s all.”

He eyed my camera suspiciously. “This and that.”

I asked to take a quick snapshot, he pondered for a moment and acquiesced. As I framed my shot, he suddenly swung the sign board right into my lens.

He then proceeded to do a little dance, swimming the sign board all over the place just so it was impossible to photograph it.

“What you doing, man?” I asked in bewilderment. If you don’t want me to shoot, just say so, I huffed.

Ok, ok, he guffawed. As I tried one more time, he began his old antics again. This time, swinging the sign like a pendalum, cackling at his own wit.

Afterwhich, he pointed west and drawled, “There are a bunch more people like me buying back Expo tickets down the road, why don’t you photograph them?” With that, he continued cackling.

Exasperated, I spun on my foot and left. What a joker.

August 2010

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23
Aug
10

Before Dinner Time, You Could …

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

…  sing a song.

… run an errand.

… play one last round of carom.

… run around with a stick of celery.

… trim your hair.

And just like that, the weekend was over.

August 2010

* Simply refresh page if slideshow fails to come on. Ta-da!

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.

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

27
Jul
10

A day of rest

He was sitting alone, surrounded by concrete sand and mud, reading a newspaper on top of a tiny table. Behind him was his home, a large blue storage container which served as temporary accommodations for workers on that construction site.

I greeted him good day. “No work today, sir?” I asked, motioning my camera for permission.

He smiled, his crow’s feet pressed together to form a startling handsome face. I was so struck, not just by his genial disposition but by how perfectly framed his face was by his beard and hair, colored evenly with grey, black and white.

For a moment, I knelt there, mesmerized by his features while he stared back, not so much at me but past my shoulder at something else. I repeated myself, asking if he was enjoying his day off.

Suddenly, a voice boomed out from the side. “Today’s Sunday! We’re not working. What are you doing here anyway?” A large and portly middle-aged man, in nothing but a pair of bright red briefs, was in mid stride to the container when he spotted me. Standing firm with his legs apart and hands on hips, he waited for an explanation while I tried very hard to look anywhere but his underwear.

I didn’t recall what I stammered in response, only the image of the smiling old man who quietly acknowledged my departure.

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’

19
Jul
10

And then the sun came out to play

This past weekend, the sun came out in its full glory, accompanied by clear blue skies and thin wisps of clouds.

For weeks, Shanghai endured a perpetual haze, gloomy skies and temperamental showers. “Plum rain” or 梅雨 (mei yu) – heavy precipitation and constant rain which occurs for several weeks at a stretch during early summer in the Yangtze River Delta – is more or less over.

But what this means also is that we’re now in the throes of a harsh summer. Today, the city is sweltering in 35 degree (95 Fahrenheit) heat, where mere breathing can cause a person to break out in sweat. And we all know it’s only going to get worse.

On the upside, the witching hours of the late afternoon, for a street photographer, are magical. Basking in the brilliance of an afternoon sun after weeks of gloom and rain, clear and stark shadows come out to play.

Everywhere you turn, everything you see, has so many possibilities that are ripe for the picking. You view the world in a third dimension where shadows speak a secret language that you only understand through your lens.

July 2010




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