Friday, 10 November 2017

The Girl of Nanjing Road

I'm not exactly sure where my interest in Shanghai erupted, but I do know that my chinoiserie "phase" has been bubbling for quite a while. Although it was influenced by my travels over the past two years to Hanoi and Kuala Lumpur, it was triggered by a couple of visits to the Malaysian capital's Old China Cafe; an atmospheric eatery in its Chinatown's vicinity.

It was at this Old China Cafe; an old cafĂ©-restaurant that serves a combination of Straits Chinese and Malay dishes, and whose untouched pre-war ambiance and large traditional feng shui mirrors gave me the idea of constructing a fantasy story about a beautiful Chinese woman dressed in a clinging red qi pao (or cheongsam) appearing to an opium-addled Western photographer.

Another another influence is In the Mood for Love, the 2000 Hong Kong film directed by Wong Kar-wai, starring Maggie Cheung and Tony Leung. It's moody theme is especially inspiring. 

Fast forward to earlier this year when the opportunity presented itself to photograph a sequel to my earlier The Red Qi Pao audio slideshow in Shanghai itself...where I chose a storyline that features Yiyi as the red qi pao-clad girl of Nanjing Road; a famous road in the city. Her story "occurs" in the 1930's and involves a foreigner only known as "gweilo".

During the 1920s into early 1930s, Shanghai was where the best art, the greatest architecture, and the strongest business was in Asia. It rivaled many cosmopolitan European cities, earned the sobriquet of "The Paris of the East" and became known as a place of vice and indulgence.With its dance halls, brothels, glitzy restaurants, international clubs, Shanghai was a city that catered to every whim of the rich. 

Photo © Tewfic El-Sawy | All Rights Reserved
This is a marked departure from my so-called specialization of "travel photography meets photojournalism" and of documenting (mostly South Asian and South East Asian) religious festivals, obscure rituals and cultural events. I dubbed this as "fashion-themed story telling", and with the current strong interest amongst Asian photographers in fashion/models photo shoots, I am considering whether to include it as one of my forthcoming workshops.

For The Girl Of Nanjing Road, I was fortunate to work with Yiyi, a professional model and an aspiring photographer who -despite our language barriers- understood almost instinctively what I expected of her during our 3 hours session.

© Zhou Ding. With Ms Yiyi in Guilin Park, Shanghai.
For most of the images that are used in The Girl of Nanjing Road, I used the fabulous Fuji GFX50s and its 63mm, along with the equally impressive Fuji X-Pro2 and its 16-55mm lens. 

I edited the audio tracks using Audacity, merging Yiy's narrations with Good Night Serenade by Chinese singer Zhou Xuan; China's 'Golden Voice' and one of the most popular and important actress/singers of the 1930s and 40s. The still images and audio tracks were converted to an mp4 using iMovie.