I’ve expressed my thoughts about street photography in China before and how it does not seem to be a genre that is widely understood or practiced in spite of the growing prevalence of niche camera equipment and the snap-happy society at large. A Chinese friend recently joked that Canon 5D MKIIs and Leica M9s are now considered “entry-level kits” for China’s nouveau riche while for the younger generation, photography has become a natural outlet for self-expression made easy with the ubiquitous camera phone.
But to be fair, street photography is very much alive here in Shanghai, considered to be the best city in China (and arguably one of the best cities in the world) for said craft. Like New York and London, Shanghai’s sprawling metropolis of 22 million people can awe as it can inspire. Which is naturally why the street photography collective Zaijietou.com (在街头) or “in the street” in Chinese, is largely made up of contributors from Shanghai, with the rest peppered across the country. You can view my recent collaboration with them here.
Below are excerpts of two bilingual interviews with a Chinese and a German contributor of Zaijietou conducted by the site’s admnistrator Liu Miao (刘淼). Local photographer Lahem (拉黑) describes himself to be an individual “imprisoned” in Shanghai and believes honesty and photography to be the highest forms of humor. His work below seems to reflect this philosophy well.
Lahem has set up his own photo club, a platform to further advocate his philosophies about photography.
We insist photos must care about life. We insist the neglected facts are in our daily life. We use photos to discover these facts. We face joy, pain and sadness. This is how we define our photo club. During this age, anybody can have a camera, Anybody can be a photographer, taking photo can be as easy as breathing. But in the mean time, we found that though more are more people are taking pictures, they do not have a free will, they are taking photos according to someone else’s will and to cater for others’ needs. In 2009, I knew some friends, we all thought photography should care about life itself,to confront the inner heart.
Berlin-borned Ingo compared street photography in Germany and China (his work above), sharing a view I find common with many foreigners who call Shanghai home. A foreign environment is often most stimulating whereas a familiar one can dull our senses.
The streets in China are more colorful, people and places more divers. Also a bit “luan” (乱 or ‘messy’, ‘unruly’)which is nothing negative and can be very inspirational. Things are changing and are constantly on the move. It’s easier to spot interesting pictures. When I’m in Germany on the street I don’t know what I should photograph. It all seems so boring. But it might be because I grew up there. The city view for me is just something I have known my whole life.
Regardless of background or motivations, Zaijietou contributors share the same qualities of street photographers all over. Ingo captures this perspective well.
I think for me it’s definitely not a way to make a living but more like an obsession that doesn’t let me go. It’s also not a lifestyle. Photography is all about watching and observing. I’m good at that. This is me. I like to stay back, observe and discover the small and interesting things around you. Maybe some situations tell an interesting story about life in a pure and straight way and some details even let you smile to yourself while participating in this situation: I’m always trying to find those small moments.
Zaijietou is celebrating their site’s one-year anniversary with plenty of pomp. In addition to an upcoming exhibition, they have launched an ambitious “tagging” exercise called Zaijietou Relay (or “在接力”). Essentially, a photographer will post a photo and a short story and another photographer can respond in a similar fashion. Ideally, the relays will create a continuous dialogue on street photography. You don’t need to be signed up as a member of Zaijietou, getting involved in easy.
For street photographers outside of China, this is a good opportunity to interact with China-based counterparts through the common language of the viewfinder. So take to the streets and join in!