There is a moment, a split second, when you are with your camera in the streets, and a moment you were hoping for surrenders itself to you. I am referring to that brief time before your subject has a time to react to your lens. I love that magical click that finds the person inside of their essence; a line of connection between you, the lens and the person.
We struggle to protect ourselves from what we perceive as threats only to balance those threats with what gives us pleasure. We tend to somehow negotiate a deal with ourselves that makes it all ok.
Shanghainese women, famous for their strong personalities and their control of the household including their men have become a stereotype in China. The wife in Shanghai is known to make her husband hand in his whole salary at the end of the month and to only give him back a small portion as pocket-money as she sees fit. He also has a strict curfew for coming home at night and he is expected to perform certain household duties on top of his daily job. I took a sneak peek at some of these lovely ladies’ mahjong gambling activities in the afternoon behind a dusty window screen in one of the alleys of the old city, and strength is certainly a quality they emanate.
I was walking in an old street in Shanghai with my camera taking in all the sights, smells and noises of the crowded narrow lanes when an unusual sight drew me in. I looked inside a smoky large room packed with rickety tables, chairs, tea pots, and men in hats, so many men in hats. I walked in and after I stopped being looked at as the stranger in the village, I began to be approached by the curious of the gathered men. Each wanted to tell me stories, because this is what we humans do, we carry our his-story with us, in our minds, our hearts, etched on our faces and we long to tell them and to pass them on before we leave, so that parts of us can stay behind and make an indelible mark. I listened and tried my best to comprehend, but the best story this man can tell is written all over his face and I present it to you here in this frozen moment…
The new generation, what words can we list to associate with their day to day domain at this time in history? I did this exercise with myself naming some words that come to mind from the top of my head: social media, games, electronics, texting, computers, television, movies, ipads, ipods, iphones, virtual sports with Wii…
These things they take with them everywhere, they communicate through them, they find their identities with the help of these gadgets and they have become an integral part of the life of a modern young person. And then I thought further and realized that they are all boxes of some sort, small screens that draw the eyes and concentration of a person in and holds them there. So they are boxed in almost oblivious to the world around them and I remember very clearly that for us it was never really like that. Where are we heading? How virtual is our world going to get? Are we going to box ourselves in deeper and deeper? Then the word zombie came to mind (which might have to do with my Lea showing up today with a collection of zombie cards out of the blue!)
I photographed this sweet man about 2 months ago on a street in Pudong while he was taking his break from work with his friend and it was s delightful encounter, full of smiles and shy giggles from the two of them. Since the street was in my Shanghai neighborhood, I asked them if they would like prints of their images and they loved the idea. Since that day I have been returning to this street every few days looking for them to no avail. And then, finally, today I saw one of the men resting on the ground in the heat of the day. It was like meeting an old friend! He jumped up, giggling, joyous, and when he actually saw the prints I gave him he was talking so fast to himself that I could not understand a word of his provincial Chinese, but I did not need to… So much passed between us without words and the lovely worker made one photographer very happy and a little magic was sprinkled on an otherwise normal day!
I walked and walked and walked today. I love walking the streets of Shanghai on sunny winter days taking in the alleys, the laundry hanging in the street, the meat drying in the winter sun next to people’s undergarments, the locals sunning on the curb on their lounge chairs, the board games, the millions of bicycles, the street food stalls, the workers… all of it.
Today I took so many shots and saw so many smiling faces and then I saw the odd dramatic face like that of film man and his cat who stared me down but not before the moment was captured.