Shanghai Neighborhood Project

August 18, 2008

In 2005 and 2006 I started a project in Shanghai about the common people in this fast changing city. Some months before, we had moved to a 1940s apartment complex in the former French Concession in central Shanghai. Almost all our neighbors were ordinary Chinese and we were well known in the neighborhood.
I prefer to take portraits of people I know (and who know me) because then I am clear about what I want to show and the subject is more relaxed, more willing to open up. I always find it a little awkward to approach strangers on the street. Very often there will be an air of uneasiness remaining which can spoil the image.

I started the project with placing a small stool in from of the wall of our building, right along the back-alley that leads to the main door (which is the back entrance). I then asked passing by people to sit down and get their portraits taken. I used a 6×6 Mamiya twin reflex camera for that, trying to be as little intrusive as possible.
The result is a series of portraits in black & white and color, showing ordinary people of Shanghai from all social backgrounds. The pictures show flaws due to the improvisation of the setting. This was not always intended but kind of contributes to the natural character of the project.

After leaving Shanghai for good in 2007, this is the project that mostly reflects my personal view and feelings about China, Shanghai in particular.

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