As tall glass buildings give way to low-rise suburbia the street life builds, just a few side stalls selling Gerbils and freshly cut pineapples at first, then chatty hair salons and busy cafes, carpenters tapping mindlessly, antique traders screaming through megaphones and suddenly you’re center-stage in an unfinished Sino-Shakespearean masterpiece. In Shanghai the old China exists by thriving at street-level.
D4 / 14 – 24 f2.8 / Pudong
Shouldering a saturated 500mm, I set off down a deserted Nanjing Lu, hop-scotching loose paving stones as wet sand falls from the sky filling the city cracks like oil on canvas.
D700 / 70- 200 f2.8 / Yu Yuan Yuan
Nanjing Lu leaves nothing to the imagination, a capitalist monstrosity eating away at the very heart of China’s communist struggle. The Bund, Technology Park, People’s Park, modern Pudong and even the French quarter follow in its ravenous footsteps. It’s just not China, at least not the China I expected. Heading away from tooting taxis and angry hordes of money-wielding tourists I wander through the backstreets of central Shanghai, twisting and turning ever further from the glistening Metropolis and its Starbucks sheep.
As tall glass buildings give way to low-rise suburbia the street life builds, just a few side stalls selling Gerbils and freshly cut pineapples at first, then chatty hair salons and busy cafes, carpenters tapping mindlessly, antique traders screaming through megaphones, and suddenly you’re center-stage in an unfinished Sino-Shakespearean masterpiece. In Shanghai, the old China exists by thriving at street-level; hairdressers and butchers deftly slicing their meat as if the same, fish mongers man-handling yesterday’s catch from shallow coffins, dropping them on the ubiquitous scale-encrusted wooden chopping block, hacking and scraping until satisfied.
Toads hang in nets, gerbils share tanks with terrapins, pigeons display to the highest bidder, and crabs routinely make a bid for freedom while meaningless arguments distract their stall owners. Sound and
Happily, no one seems to notice the lone wanderer, and sidestepping a few unidentifiable objects I make my way past squirming shells, blue lobsters, hairy crabs and their less-hairy cousins tied up into neat little bundles ready to drop in the pot. Steam and incense bellow from cook-pots and cloud an already dazzled vision, and I finally step in something so viscous it almost takes my shoe off. Exhausted I find myself off the main thoroughfare and sit at a small table, order a cold Tsingtao with noodles and watch the chaos continue for an hour or two, everything ticking along just like clockwork.
Shooting analogue was a combination of artistic bliss and personal bankruptcy, so when digital cameras hit the market we all thought the same thing: win win. But after 15 years shooting digital, my field-work attitude had shifted for the worse; I became accustomed to the high FPS my Nikons could turn over, became lazy when bracketing for HDR, began to abuse high ISO, just accepting the grain in all weather. I’d even leave my tripod at home and just make do with image stabilistion. Above all, I’d become lazy, relying on technology to finish a process I’d start in my mind. I didn't start like that during my analogue days; back then it was sacrilege to 'fill the buffer', as it were - we thought, composed, and captured with each and every click. Romanticised maybe, but true.
So I changed.
Capturing one solid image for a collection is pretty easy, anyone can take a great image with a bit of skill, practise, and luck. Seriously, anyone. Two great images - still not hard and sometimes they even look good together. Three, four, and five start taxing the cranium; you need to start thinking ahead, above, and beyond. You start to sweat. Working up to ten images takes dedication, time, and skill, but once you have your collection, you get a real sense of achievement.
Forcing ourselves to select a limited number of images amongst an infinite number of possibilities enables us to think deeper about our photography, it gives us motivation and focus during times of lack-luster malaise, and it aligns our thoughts, encouraging exploration and thematic expression in collections.
IOIMG isn't typically about obsessive image matching for competitions or exhibitions (although I'd go so far as to say the images in your collections should, in some way, compliment each other), nor is it particularly constrained when choosing subjects or themes for image pools; I like to use IOIMG as more of a guiding principle designed to help maintain standards and encourage exploration in my photography as I explore the many different avenues within the discipline.
Without a guide, we'd get lost.