Sunday, 6 May 2018

Beyond The Frame | Ren Li Fung | Fuji GFX50s

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
I'm currently working on a rather intricate "photo film" or audio slideshow that will mesh the topic of ghosts, opium, Shanghai in its 1930's heyday, traditional Chinese cultural and supernatural elements; all revolving around a plot of betrayal. The plot itself is influenced by a 1988 movie by Stanley Kwan (in turn based on a novel by Li Pi-Hua (also known as Lillian Lee), one of the most influential Chinese TV writers, film writers and reporters. 

It's funny how one thing leads to another...while planning my fortnight in Shanghai and preparing for my lecture and street photography workshop some six or seven weeks ago, I was invited to a number of WeChat groups by Yi Yi; a previous acquaintance from that super-modern city who would work with me on the second iteration of The Girl of Nanjing Road

Through these WeChat groups, I connected with Ren Li Fung ("Betty") who seemed very popular as a qi pao model with a number of fashion/commercial photographers. Employed by an American company, and holding a Masters in International Politics, she was quite fluent in English, and I put forth to her my interest in featuring her in my audio slideshow project. She accepted and we agreed as to the type of qi pao I thought would be best suited for what I had in mind. Since hers would be the narrating voice in the "photo film" project, she viewed the 1988 movie to get an accurate feel for what she would be asked to do when we started.


Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
A couple of days into my arrival in Shanghai, I scheduled a photo shoot couple of hours at the well-known IG gallery-museum which has an expansive studio complete with lights, reflectors and especially a Chinese screen which I liked a lot as a backdrop...as well as a Ming dynasty styled chair.

Helped by IG's Wang Hua with the studio's lights and reflectors, I used my Fuji GFX50s and its 63mm 2.8 lens to capture "Betty" in various poses until I was satisfied. We also were able to record the audio narration for the "photo film" in the back room until we were both happy with its pace and intonation.

Being an "on-the-fly" travel photographer (with an affinity for a photojournalistic style), I am always uneasy photographing in a static and controlled studio environment...as I'm not used to it. Directing the model to adjust her face or posture a hundred times doesn't come naturally to me. At IG, I had a mood board with me, and showed a few poses for "Betty" to adopt during the shoot to make it simple.

Having broken the ice with the studio photo shoot, we met a few days later at the Shanghai Hanxiang Water Garden (see above photograph). I was much more in my element in such an environment, but not a single teahouse was open in this 800+ acres park; probably since we chose one the three days of the Qing Ming (Tomb Sweeping) holidays. In any event, I had scouted some of the buildings and chose a few that were appropriate...especially one having images of 1930s Shanghai beauties. More comfortable in such places, I know how to make use of the ambient light, where to place my subject and of the surrounding wooden railings, benches, etc.  


Naturally in such public places, there are always people milling around and I expected that some would gawk at the photo shoot. However, most of the Chinese visitors hardly took notice of us...others waited until I finished shooting a pose to walk across the scene. I don't know whether it was politeness or whether they were jaded...having seen photo shoots of women in qi paos before, but it was unexpected.

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
On the weekend before my departure from Shanghai, we ventured south of the city to the idyllic setting of Xitang water town where -along with another photographer, a make up artist, and translator/fixer, I photographed Betty in various locations, including in the ancient teahouse where parts of the famed movie "Lust, Caution" was filmed (see above photograph).

The setting of Xitang was perfect for my purpose; it's one of the six most famous water towns in South China, with nine rivers converging in it, with many bridges linking its various parts together. The town has buildings dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.

All photographs were made with the Fuji GFX50s and its 63mm 2.8 lens. Except for the studio photo shoot, I relied on ambient light, eschewing reflectors and artificial lighting. For post-processing, I used Silver Efex for the monochrome image, and Color Efex for the rest (and Iridient Developer to process the RAW files).