唐颖 (Tang Ying) is a Shanghai native and has studied in Japan and the US. Ying honed her street photography while working in San Francisco as a freelance cameraperson and video editor. She later studied photography at the New York Institute of Photography and the School of Photography of C.C.S.F. Her work has been featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, San Francisco Magazine and she has worked for The New York Times, IHT and Shanghai TV Magazine. Her street photography is filled with stories that sparkle with action and wit, a reflection of a unique perspective and style.
SA: Tell us more about yourself and your work. How and when did you pick up the camera?
唐颖: 我是在四年前开始街道摄影的，那时我住在旧金山，没有很多的钱投资在摄影器材上，也没有能力到处去旅游，所以我的摄影对象是旧金山的街道，那里的人。我纪录我有兴趣的人和事。不同与其他的摄影，街道摄影不需要有很昂贵的器材，我现在还用同样的器材。用最基本的镜头。我认为照片一定要有故事性才会吸引人，所以我到现在没有更换我的装备还是用同样的镜头和照相机。 我认为街道摄影之所以让我如此着迷也是因为其故事性，人文性，还有无法揣摩的突发性。所以几乎所有的街道摄影者都必须花很多时间和耐心去挖掘所谓的”decisive moment”。
I started street photography four years ago when I was living in San Francisco. I did not have much money to invest in photography equipment, or do much travelling, so my subjects were San Francisco’s streets and its people. I documented people and things that interested me.
Unlike other forms of photography, you don’t need expensive equipment for street photography – I still use the same equipment and basic lenses. I believe that photos must have a narrative element to draw people so I have yet to change my set up. What fascinate me about street photography are the narrative and humanistic elements, and its sudden and unexpected nature. This is why street photographs have to spend a lot of time and have patience to capture that “decisive moment”.
SA: What is it like to shoot in the streets in Shanghai?
I prefer documenting old longtangs and streets because the Shanghainese living there still maintain a decades-old lifestyle, the personal relationships and interaction in a dense space, and hence the neighbors are very close. This helps me to photograph many things in their natural setting. But at the same time, because I have to repeatedly pass through the same location, many people tend to accost me and ask me why I’m shooting this (old neighborhood) and not the tall buildings.
I feel that I have the ability to come closer to these people in Shanghai’s streets whereas in the US and Europe, people’s proximity in the streets is a bit more scattered. Also, people there are in more of a hurry and very sensitive to strangers photographing them. So it’s a bit more challenging to achieve works of close proximity. Of course, New York is an exception. There, people are in a greater hurry but you can capture the moments in close range. At the moment, Shanghai is undergoing a period of change so there are many unique stories of people (to tell). The streets here may not be as clean as abroad but you can capture those individual moments in their most natural setting.
SA: What is it you watch for when photographing and what strikes you the most?
I like dogs so photographing dogs is a focus of mine. Otherwise, I pay particular attention to the environment, and what people do in specific environments, and how they go about it. I think the fundamentals of photography are observation and patience. Sometimes, I would first notice the wider environ then I wait patiently for interesting individuals to appear. I also revisit the same place to look for new and meaningful moments.
SA: Do you have a favorite time and/or place in Shanghai to shoot?
I normally shoot in the afternoon, not because of any preference. When I am on magazine assignments shoots in Shanghai and have a spare moment, I like to do some personal street work. Now that I am in Germany, I do the same thing. I rarely shoot at night because my camera’s ISO is not very good. (In Shanghai), I prefer shooting near Chenghuang Temple (城隍庙) (which is in Old Town (老城厢)) and along Suzhou River (苏州河). I’ve also been to the Hongkou (虹口) area because many old houses there have yet to be demolished.
SA: Can you share with us a favorite photo and talk about it?
Each photo to me is a moment in time and sometimes an encounter. Till now, each photograph is a beautiful memory. I’ll pick one photograph.
This is a photo of four little children who live near Old Town. Each time I pass by there, they were always playing the game of Good Guys vs. Bad guys or play-fighting. They live in the old-style longtangs, so when they play, they play together as a group, which is similar to the way I grew up. That day, they did not play together, possibly because surrounding neighbors found them too noisy. So the few of them stood on a 3-wheeled cart, each playing their own game. I’ve seen them many times before so I asked if they were play-fighting today. They said no and went about playing by themselves. This is the moment I captured. Four kids playing different games. I took this photo 2 years ago.
SA: Do you feel Shanghai’s rapid change as a city affects what you shoot in the street?
The places that I shot earliest in the three years that I’ve been shooting, have been demolished. Many people that I had photographed have also moved away. Hence, I feel the greater need to document. I’ve photographed a lot and there are more photos that I have not processed. But when I look at them, it brings back many memories.
SA: What are your preferences: Film or digital? Zoom or prime lenses?
我之前也说过如果不是经济上的原因，我会使用F2.8 尼康的镜头，因为其快门的速度比我现在的镜头快很多，而且清晰度也强。但是我觉得有时你不一定需要昂贵的照相机或是镜头拍好照片，照片最重要的是你拍摄的人物，你如何控制光线，如何耐心的等待最佳时机，如何捕捉人物， 好镜头会有一定的帮助，但是决定性的因素是摄影师自己。所以即便你只有傻瓜机你也可以拍到很好的照片，所以了解你的照相机，就像是你最好的朋友，知道其长处或是短处，拍摄出你自己的照片才是重要的。
I think in terms of the quality of a photo, film is much better than digital and film processing is highly adaptable. But the cost of shooting film now is expensive. I studied photography in San Francisco using film and developed my film in darkrooms. However, to have your own darkroom to safely develop photos can be expensive. For me, it’s impossible to shoot film. So four years ago, I decided to go digital. The quality is lower than film but I can shoot more and not worry about expenses. I think the reason why so many photographers shoot digital is for that economic reason.
As I have said before, if not for economic reasons, I would use my F2.8 Nikon lens because the shutter speed is much faster than my current lens, and it has strong clarity. However, I feel sometimes, you don’t need expensive cameras or lens to shoot well. The most important thing about photos is that when shooting people, it’s how you control the light, how patient you are in seeking that perfect moment and how to best capture a person. A good lens will help but the determining factor is the photographer him or herself. So even wit a point-and-shoot, treat it like your best friend, and understand its strengths and weaknesses, and shoot what matters to you.
SA: What do you think about street photography and this specific genre of photography in China?
唐颖: 在上海，我看到了很多人也在记录。我认为现在的上海是最佳的时期作为一个摄影师，有很多形形色色的人物，很多变化。 很多人都在记录。我认为在中国街道摄影是有潜力的，但是我觉得能够花很长时间，能出作品的人还是比较少，因为很多中国有能力的摄影师喜欢到西北或是少数民族的区域做记录。在上海还是比较少，陆元敏是比较有名的上海街道摄影家。
I’ve seen many people documenting in Shanghai. I think that this is the best time for a photographer in Shanghai what with the different people and all the changes. I believe street photography in China has great potential but there are not that many people who are able to expend long periods of time (on street photography) and be able to publish such work. There are so many talented photographers in China who like to travel to the Western regions or places where minority groups live to document. But there are less (such documentary photographers) in Shanghai. Lu Yuanming is a more prominent Shanghai street photographer.
SA: Are there any photographers that have stood out or influenced your work? (if possible, can u name any local in addition to international photographers?)
唐颖: 我的偶像是Elliot Ewitt，我比较喜欢他的幽默的风格。他的狗的照片让我在上海尝试了我自己的关于宠物的系列。还有Moriyama Daito, Henri Cartier Bresson等等。我比较倾向与传统的人文摄影的风格运用在我街道摄影上，现代派的例如ALex Webb, Trent Park的作品也让我尝试了不同的方式去拍摄。我觉得摄影是需要不断的尝试和学习的一个过程。
Elliot Erwitt is my idol and I like his humorous style. His photographs of dogs have inspired me to create my own series on pets in Shanghai. (I also like) Moriyama Daito, Henri Cartier Bresson etc. I lean toward the traditional style of photography involving a human element, which is reflected in my street photography. More modern works by photographers Alex Webb and Trent Parke have helped me experiment different methods in shooting. I feel that photography requires constant experimentation and learning.
Visit Behind the Camera Interview Series to learn more about the work of other photographers.
I have been a fan of Ying Tang’s photography for over 4 years. She truly has a talent for capturing the raw beauty of every-day life. The street scenes of Shanghai she has faithfully documented over the years are invaluable in that they record a rapidly-disappearing culture. When the narrow lanes and courtyards and afternoon gatherings of neighbors are replaced with highrise apartments and other modern atrocities, then so too will this sort of unadulterated photography. Luckily we will always have Ying’s archive of photos to look back on and reminisce.
Thanks for commenting Tom. I feel very lucky to have interviewed Tang Ying, and I’m glad we could do it in both languages to more widely share the interview.
Please have a look at the other interviews with very talented and commuted individuals who have photographed Old Shanghai and continue to do so as each old shikumen, longtangs and neighborhood life disappear from the metropolitan area.
Tina L. Zeng
Love how the interview was bilingual; the interview is so rich.
One of my favorite lines:
The most important thing about photos is that when shooting people, it’s how you control the light, how patient you are in seeking that perfect moment and how to best capture a person. A good lens will help but the determining factor is the photographer him or herself.
Can’t wait for new entries :9
Hi Tina! Thanks so much for stopping by, I saw your great photo essay on the China USC site on Kaiping. Good job!