Friday, 21 May 2010

Howard W. French: Old Shanghai

Photo © Howard W. French -All Rights Reserved

The NY Times featured Howard French's exquisite portfolio of black & white photographs of residents of old Shanghai's densely packed neighborhoods inside their own homes, which is titled Discovering Shanghai's Secret City.

I was so taken by this type of work (and I guarantee you will too) that I looked for Howard French's other work and discovered his main photography website, and his equally wonderful Disappearing Shanghai: The Landscape Within among other galleries.

Howard French lived in Shanghai from 2003-2008 as chief of The Times’s bureau, and spent many weekends exploring the lesser known areas of Shanghai or the "densely packed place of tumbledown, two-story housing and long internal alleyways" as he describes them. He became a familiar sight for many of the residents, and knew what to expect at every corner, whther it'd be a mahjong game or a regular siting in a chair in his pajamas.

He returned to Shanghai last summer and for three months, he knocked on the doors of homes and asked himself in to document what he encountered.

To me, this is what documentary photography is all about. The photographer as a fly on the wall...seemingly unnoticed by his subjects...who perhaps either ignore his presence, got used to it or tolerate it....and from these frames, one can build a storyline. In the photograph above, the woman on the left is laughing at something/someone outside of the frame, and the younger woman looks at her somewhat pensively, while a third person is lying on the bed, possibly asleep. Can we guess the dynamics in this photograph? The wedding photograph hanging from the wall begs the question: is the bride and groom present in the room? Are they the laughing woman and the sleeping figure? Is the young woman their daughter?

Simple yet complex. I love it.