What I am reading this week

I hope this week’s longer list of links will be interesting holiday reading as we near Christmas. I’ll squeeze in one more post before I head off to Vietnam for a few days. Safe travels and Merry Christmas to one and all!

– A very interesting visual interpretation of Shanghai’s residents as lost and anonymous souls in an urban jungle. “Shanghai /Lost Identity” by Victor Garrido via the Invisible Photographer Asia

– The Financial Times featured Michael Wolf’s ‘100 x 100’ photo series inside Hong Kong’s Shek Kip Mei public housing estate where each apartment is measured 100 sq ft. The complex has since been demolished. Michael Wolf is widely known for his defining portrayal of cities, my favorite being the slightly depressing “Tokyo Compression”.

– Another interesting piece in the FT about the plight of Central Asian migrants in Russia facing growing discrimination. Formerly united under the Soviet umbrella, Central Asians find themselves diverging from the Russian culture. This was an active topic of discussion during my time in Central Asia.

Burn My Eye is a new “international collective aiming to show the extraordinary within the ordinary using candid photography”. It currently features only 10 photographers. Jack Simon, whom I interviewed when he stopped through Shanghai, is included. Taiwan’s TC Lin appears to be the only photographer from Asia featured. Let’s hope to see more diversity as the site expands.

– The bespoke travel agency Wild China interviewed me recently. I thought I’d highlight a portion of my interview to solicit your opinion on how best to prepare to shoot in China, whether professionally or as an amateur.

Do you have any advice for photographers traveling to China?

Do your research prior such as visiting online forums/blogs/photo galleries of the cities you will be visiting, for ideas and feedback (I am a moderator on the Shanghai Flickr Forum which is very responsive and friendly). If you have more specific needs, work with a fixer (via journalists or local photography academies). For long distance travel, work with drivers/tour agents who are attuned to photographers’ needs.

Always, always go off the beaten path. Much of China is about presenting a good veneer for “face” reasons, so you’ll discover a great deal more behind the faux walls and renovated “Chinese-style” decor. As always, practice discretion and respect for private property. For cities, instead of just Beijing, Shanghai, Hangzhou etc, try Xiamen, Shantou, Chonqing, Nanjing etc. No doubt, Western China has many gems for landscape photography but set aside more time to explore rather than adhere to a tight schedule of photographic stops.

Finally, China is a friendly place to shoot and people tend to be quite open to being photographed. That said, basic manners and a smile goes a long way. If you promise someone you will send them a photo, make sure to follow up.

– I’ve really enjoyed The Atlantic’s Cities section, and they’ve rounded up the best City reads for 2011, featuring Shanghai (a good piece in the Smithsonian Magazine), Beijing (New Yorker’s Evan Osnos for Condé Nast), Detroit and New York.

– If you’re looking for a good book about great cities for the holidays, here are a few suggestions.

1. “Shanghai Country Walks” by Wilkinson, E. S. (1932 edition) (download the entire book here) might be alluring for those who like to live in the past. Wilkinson is a former British subject in Shanghai who enjoyed taking long suburban strolls outside of the foreign concessions in the early 1930s. I’ve printed my copy and hope to trek some routes with a friend this New Year!

The remark too frequently heard – “Oh, Shanghai isn’t China !” – may be true enough, but it does not apply to the country a few miles from the Settlement boundaries. Many of us have no opportunities frr travel in the interior of China, but we have at hand, with the aid of this little book, ready-made excursions into China and opportunities for observation that will take the sting out of the ancient taunt. ~ Edward Sheldon Wilkinson, 1932

2. “Beyond the Neon Lights: Everyday Shanghai in the Early 20th Century” by Lu Hanchao (University of California Press, 2004).  Lu weaves a rich tapestry of life in Shanghai’s alleys (or longtangs) and the local characters that colored the city in the early 1900s. A delightful cocktail of history, ethnography, sociology, literature. Lu’s conclusion is that as significant as the foreign concessions were in shaping Shanghai, many locals lived their lives relatively unaffected within the confines of their community.

3. If I could turn Shanghai Street Stories into a book, I hope it would be as intimate, engaging and colorful as Seketu Mehta’s “Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found”. He covers every facet of Mumbai (though he, like many of the city’s older dwellers, prefers to call it Bombay) from the slums, criminal underworld, prostitution to Bollywood. Every metropolis is a never ending novel, and Mehta saves the best for his readers.

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  • Reply December 23, 2011


    nice links… and i’m waiting for you… make sure you call me, okay? and we’ll be off for some adventures [in shanghai].

    • Reply December 24, 2011

      Sue Anne

      Haha, Cintia. I won’t go without you. You can lead me around!

  • Reply December 24, 2011


    Great links, plenty to read and to look at for the coming vacations !
    One thing though:
    “If I could turn Shanghai Street Stories into a book”
    Why “if” ?
    How about “when” ?
    Or “why not ?”
    Or “it’s never going to be the right time, so how about now ?”

    • Reply December 24, 2011

      Sue Anne

      Alex, thanks for the words of encouragement. How about “When I turn Shanghai Street Stories into a book”?

  • Reply December 25, 2011


    Great, there’s one more item on my list to look forward to.

    As far as photography is concerned, China and elsewhere, “Everything we shoot ends up wrapped around a metaphor”. Without falling into imaginary worlds.

    Can I say I’m looking forward to see your pictures from Vietnam ?

    Merry X-mas !

  • Reply December 26, 2011

    Yingying Xue

    🙂 How was your Merry X-mas?

    • Reply December 28, 2011

      Sue Anne

      It was jolly and thankfully warm in Vietnam. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season ahead as well!

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