Shanghai Street Stories mix of street photography & photojournalism coupled with clever tips re off-the-beaten path travel in Shantou, Xiamen and Western China were more than enough to convince WildChina that we had to learn more about this fantastic blog. Last week, we caught up with Shanghai Street Stories Founder Sue Anne Tay to learn more about how she fell in love with photographing Shanghai.
How did photography develop as your passion?
I guess you could say Shanghai sparked that passion.
After moving here in early 2008, I took to exploring the city with my camera like any new transplant. As I pushed deeper into Shanghai’s old neighborhoods which were being demolished at a very rapid pace, especially leading up to the World Expo in mid-2010, I was desperate to capture them in the best way possible given the time constraint. Since then, I’ve been reading vociferously both about Shanghai and photography, and shooting whenever I have the chance. Starting up “Shanghai Street Stories” has also helped me engage with the local photography community which remains helpful in sharing experiences and information.
What makes your photography unique in Shanghai?
My style of photography is a mix of street photography and photojournalism. The former is a style which I enjoy and hope reflects the character of the city and diversity of its people in an insightful yet witty manner. The latter is a way to focus on stories on Shanghai’s old and disappearing neighborhoods, ranging from the (often poor) state of some longtangs(or lanes), its residents and surrounding community and lifestyle. I explore off-the-beaten paths and highlight what may appear to be quotidian details, but end up revealing much more.
There are other photographers doing either or, some whose work I greatly admire. But I try to combine the two genres in hope of painting a broad yet in-depth picture of the city.
What is your favorite place in China that you have photographed?
Shanghai ranks pretty high up, mostly because of the density of the city and unique East-West aspects of its history, which offer up a rich landscape for street photography. I’ve also had a great time shooting Xinjiang’s famed scenic landscapes, as well as the more obscure old port town of Shantou in Guangdong province.
Do you have any advice for photographers traveling to China?
Do your research prior such as visiting online forums/blogs/photo galleries of the cities you will be visiting, for ideas and feedback (I am a moderator on the Shanghai Flickr Forum which is very responsive and friendly). If you have more specific needs, work with a fixer (via journalists or local photography academies). For long distance travel, work with drivers/tour agents who are attuned to photographers’ needs.
Always, always go off the beaten path. Much of China is about presenting a good veneer for “face” reasons, so you’ll discover a great deal more behind the faux walls and renovated “Chinese-style” decor. As always, practice discretion and respect for private property. For cities, instead of just Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou etc, try Xiamen, Shantou, Chonqing, Nanjing etc. No doubt, Western China has many gems for landscape photography but set aside more time to explore rather than adhere to a tight schedule of photographic stops.
Finally, China is a friendly place to shoot and people tend to be quite open to being photographed. That said, basic manners and a smile goes a long way. If you promise someone you will send them a photo, make sure to follow up.
Plans for the future?
I may bid adieu to Shanghai at some point but for now, I’m intent on photographing as much as Shanghai as possible and build a strong body of documentary and street photography work to share with the world.
I hope to expand on the occasional project such as The Roving Exhibit where I carried photo boards of my work to old neighborhoods that I have photographed. I like the idea of taking street photography back into the street, and sharing it with the residents of Shanghai.
Finally, I hope to continue contributing to the local photographic community in Shanghai and start up a monthly forum for photographers to discuss existing projects and their experiences. A better understanding of our collective interests can only help improve our photographic perspectives.
To learn more, visit Shanghai Street Stories. If you are interested in off the beaten path photography trips, take a look at expert led trip High Speed China.
Photos by: Sue Ann Tay