Shanghai Monochrome: Why It Does Not Have To Be In Focus

Why It Does Not Have to be in Focus: Modern Photography Explained is the title of a book by Jackie Higgins.

To me, it’s a study on artlessness in modern art photography.

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Why photographs do not have to be in focus is akin to why it is that modern poetry does not rhyme.

Ditto why it is that modern musical compositions play with dissonance.

The big word “modernism” comes into play here, with its suspicion of “correctness” as espoused by traditional aesthetics.

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I could go on and on (an occupational hazard for a university professor) but I’ll restrain myself and say simply that we’ve learnt not to trust a person who is too poised, too eloquent, too ready with his or her words.

We’ve learnt not to trust that person who is too artful.

That perhaps there’s something reassuring about imperfections, acknowledging that sometimes, not getting it right is also part of the human condition.

So we look to artlessness and we stop policing ourselves about right vs wrong in aesthetics.

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After all, we often don’t have time to stop and look.

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Everything is done in haste.

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To depict the modern condition, art has to be the modern condition.

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The artist has to learn not to take himself/herself (or art) too seriously.

Art can’t be served on a plate.

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Street photography is about stopping time and making the ephemeral make sense.

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It’s about that grimace we’d rather not see in ourselves, that we’d rather suppress and not let others see.

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Though if the day is good, we allow ourselves a little grin – that’s humanity too.

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We could be lighthearted on a lighthearted day.

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Or stand by and watch life pass us by, and smile.

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It doesn’t have to be in focus, and it doesn’t have to be upright as well…

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We look again.

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We don’t always get it right.

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Life goes on in a blur.

If you like this post, you’ll like my portfolio.

Have a good day!

 

 

 

 

 

Shanghai: How to Appreciate High Contrast Monochrome

Yes, I’ve recently acquired a taste for high contrast monochrome.

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It is stark, clear, and in some ways, minimalist.

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Stripped of colours, our attention is drawn directly to the subjects.

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You could overexpose a bit to make a social statement about modernity – the face of the security guard is partially eclipsed, in contrast to the blown-out advertisement.

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There’s the dichotomy between an individual and a building, and the image draws attention to rectangular grids of the building and pavement, in contrast to the white polka dots echoed in the two round shapes on the building.

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The rectangular grids here are enhanced by the bus and the back of the shirt.

More grids, blocks and lines in the next few shots:

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The face is blurred out, again emphasizing the blocks, grids and lines.

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I’m about to reveal a useful street photography technique.

All these shots are done from a mobile elevated position.

I’ve set this up so I could do street photography on the move.

I spent $40 RMB setting this up, though the equipment involved, depending on the model, could easily cost more than $200 000 RMB.

I’m a very talent street photographer, you see.

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Can you guess what it is?

It’s really a fantastic piece of equipment for the street photographer, which has to be manned by another person.

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It’s called an open-air double-decker tour bus.

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$40 RMB is the price of an all day ticket on a route with 3-4 bus lines.

 

My ten-year-old son wants to have a go. The next eight images are by him.

I gave him 2 very important street photography tips:

1) Try not to place the subject at the center.

2) Don’t drop the camera or else.

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I’m responsible for the high contrast monochrome, of course.

But what can I say – he has good creative genes. 🙂

Okay, my turn.

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The above is the street photographer assistant I hired, taking a break from handling that fantastic piece of equipment for me.

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The youth of Shanghai, walking with a swagger.

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I like the facial expressions.

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Cool dudes.

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A blurry shot, something I learnt from Daido Moriyama…

Thanks for reading, and buy my prints!

 

 

Shanghai On the Move

The overall theme for this post is Shanghai’s speed and mobility.

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I realize I have a preference for a “flawed” aesthetic.

Even with a digital camera (Canon 600D), I’m still going for the same vision as with my film compacts.

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In fact, in some ways, I’m treating my Canon 600D like a film compact…

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If you view the image at full size, you could see the grain almost breaking up the picture.

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There’s a symmetry to this composition that I like.

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It’s not focused correctly, just as we see things in glimpses.

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There’s still a lot of construction going on in Shanghai.

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This is visual evidence that the metropolis (population 23 million) is still growing!

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It’s a city on the move.

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With people on the move.

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The three big Chinese characters are translated literally as “China dream”.

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A city is the dream of its people made manifest.

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The Chinese characters on the left can roughly be translated as “caring for the youth of the future” … I think.

The ones on the top right means “building the nation’s most eminent city”.

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Where would Shanghai (or China) be, economically and politically,  in the next 5-10 years?

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This is one of the entrances to the Xujiahui campus of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, where I gave a talk entitled … lo and behold, “The Practice of Poetry and Street Photography” at a conference called Modern and Postmodern Arts: China and the World.

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People pose here, at the campus gate, for photographs.

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One of my favourite Chinese idioms – “a hundred years to cultivate a human being”.

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The full idiom is something like “it takes ten years to cultivate a tree, a hundred to cultivate a human being”.

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That’s a library, if i remember correctly.

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Waiting.

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Still waiting.

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Now crossing – a nation of people on the move.

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Places to go, people to see, things to do.

The next 8 photographs were taken by my son, though of course, I’m the one responsible for the high contrast monochrome.

The first six were taken when we were in one of the spheres of the Shanghai Oriental Pearl TV Tower.

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The next two pictures (by my son) were taken at Urban Planning Exhibition Center.

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I think he’s developing a good sense of composition here.

Thanks for dropping by, and buy my open edition prints at my Saatchi Art page!

 

Shanghai Digital

The images in my previous posts on Shanghai were made with film cameras.

I’ll go digital here, with a non-descript but able-bodied Canon 600D paired with that nifty-fifty (50mm, f 1.8 II) lens, which gives me an 80mm focal length with the 1.6x crop factor.

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80mm is a long reach for street photography, but it’s a good complement given the 35mm focal lengths of my Olympus XA2 and Minolta AFC, and the Summicron 50mm of my Leica M6.

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And 80mm means I’m far away enough for the shutter sound to be inaudible.

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The above were taken at a shopping mall in Shanghai known as Raffles City.

Fellow Singaporeans would recognize that name, because there’s a Raffles City in Singapore too.

The one in Shanghai is owned/developed by CapitaLand, the real estate company based in Singapore. I almost feel at home here, surrounded by many Singapore retail shops/brands.

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Let’s not forget there’s a Gini coefficient at work here too…

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A fellow tourist on an open-air double decker bus.

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Intriguing cables against historical architecture.

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Some more cables against building windows.

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People waiting for a bus.

The next seven images were taken by my ten-year-old son.

He wanted a go at street photography and I asked him to focus only on 2 things as an assignment of sorts. One, “try to fill the frame” and two, “make sure they’re doing something”.

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As you can see, my son is very talented – it’s in the genes… 😉

He’ll inherit all my cameras one day… (he’s been asking about that Leica M6).

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Lots of potential here on a rainy day.

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This is street photography from a cab.

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Nice rainy red flare.

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Watch out!

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We survived and went to a museum.

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A very distinguished-looking man.

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I like the colors here.

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In front of a gigantic goldfish tank.

Thanks for dropping by, and don’t forget to check out my Saatchi Art page!

 

 

 

 

Shanghai: Bargain Hunting at Laojie

Time to go bargain hunting!

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This is Shanghai Laojie (Old Street), a touristy area with lots of “specialty shops” selling various Oriental stuff.

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The light was no good (this was just after a drizzle on a really cloudy day), so my poor Olympus XA2 with Fuji Superia 800 was stretched to its limits.

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I’m probably forgiving myself too much, but some of the images have a soft-focus painterly look that nonetheless grows on me.

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Check out the goods.

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I was looking at one of the shirts in a store and the shopkeeper said to me (in English) it’s made of really exquisite material, at only 360RMB.

I nodded and said I would think about it (in Mandarin/Putonghua) and walked away, only to be told two steps later that it’s 180RMB.

I said I’ll think about it.

And she said “Ok, ok, 100RMB final offer. If you don’t believe me, go to the other shops to compare prices and you’ll see this is the best price you’ll get.”

I said I’ll indeed take a quick look at the other shops and she said, “ok, ok – 90 RMB.”

So I bought two.

I’m an expert negotiator, you see. (This was one of those rare moments when my wife was very impressed with me.)

I basically brought the price down from RMB360 to RMB90. (I now suspect the price could have been lowered further.)

I think that at this place, they’re selling generic stuff (from the same suppliers/factories) that can be found at every other shop, and they know that you know.

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Hmm…

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Yummy traditional snacks!

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A shop specializing in chopsticks.

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Another one specializing in Oriental curios.

Thanks for stopping by, and please do check out my Saatchi Art page for open edition prints.

 

 

Shanghai Colours

My previous post was of Shanghai in monochrome, using my Minolta AF-C with Ilford XP2 400 film.

This is my Olympus XA2 talking, speaking the language of Fuji Superia 800.

These 2 cameras with the respective films are my favorite double combo.

We’re still at Huashan Street and its vicinity.

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I’m quite proud of this, with the reds at the bottom left as a counterweight to the rest of the image.

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The papers fell off and he basically made a U-turn and stopped to pick them up.

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Yes, a feisty lauwai (aka gweilo/angmoh/expat/foreigner) who has adapted to Shanghai and its traffic.

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Taking a break.

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He glared at me.

I said “ni hao” (hello/how are you) and smiled and he rolled his eyes and looked away.

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Yay! Three modes of transport in a single image.

I can’t decide whether it’s a small scooter or an electric bicycle…

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She glared at me for a bit. So I bowed slightly, smiled and hastened off.

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Children being children.

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Fashionable Shanghai.

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Hard at work.

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Waiting.

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Yummy street food! (Resist I must.)

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I like the redness of the car and his T-shirt.

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A security kiosk with my reflection.

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The other side of the kiosk (and my reflection).

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An alleyway – I like this a lot as it looks rather painterly to me.

Some of the images here are available at my Saatchi Art page as affordable open edition prints. Do check it out.