What I am reading: Urbanisation, urbanization

Since arriving in Shanghai more than 4.5 years ago, I’ve watched the concrete jungle of the financial district grow, shedding layers of retro 90s space-ship like architecture for 21st century gleam and twisted glass. Stories about the breathless pace of urbanisation in China are never-ending. Here’s a few more visually compelling features I’ve collected of late.

In this well-filmed short documentary by Vice, Guangzhou-based photographer Zeng Han talks about how he seeks to define China’s culture between young and old in modern times. In his four-part portrait series Soul Stealer (叫魂), he photographs modern and traditional character role play of ancient chinese opera’s and the popular costume play or ‘cosplay’, against spectacular rolling landscapes. The four parts are LandplayCosplayMulian Opera and World of Warcraft.

In Hyperreality China (超真实中国), Zeng documented the transformation and urbanization of China “in which the actual viewsights appear to be somewhat of a ‘hyperreality'”, a term, in Zeng’s words, derived from the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard, referring to the blurring of the destinction between reality and falsity.” Zeng was shown looking for the best view of this coin-like building in Guangzhou, which I thought spectacular fit his theme. Zeng shoots with a Rolliflex, of course.


[Photographer: Zeng Han]

– Singaporean hedge fund manager and photographer Jimmy Lam has been photographing China since 1994, and has shifted his focus from vanishing cultures of rural southwestern China to the dynamics of China’s most intense period of urbanisation. NYT Lens shows a great selection of Lam’s work.

Mr. Lam believes that China is often misunderstood by Western photographers and journalists. There have been photographers who have romanticized China or only photographed people in the margins — which he says is fine because there are many poor people. But his focus has been the many people being lifted out of poverty by 10 percent annual growth and the rise of the middle and upper classes in a country that is at least nominally Communist.

The key to understanding China today, he says, is nationalism, confidence and pride.

“The Chinese people have so much pride; they want to tell the world that they are no longer a third world country, and they want to be treated as equal partners, not as a backward society,” he said.

jimmy Lam

[Photographer: Jimmy Lam]

– I miss waking up to public radio when living in Washington DC. Marketplace’s Shanghai correspondent Rob Schmitz looks at how the port city of Tianjin has replicated Manhattan from buildings to layout … and not doing a great job in completing the place. The best line had to be a translation of an advertisement for Tianjin’s Manhattan project, “Concentrate world capital and set China’s ambition.”

– You may know of Chinese artist Liu Bolin who paints himself into a background to the point of being indistinguishable. He’s in New York this time and his team captured the process of preparing for “Disappearing in Place” in Queens, New York. I thought it was a perfect metaphor of how a person can get overwhelmed and lost in a metropolis like New York. Yet in contrast, New York has a 8.5 million population, Shanghai has a 24.5 million.

Liu Bolin

[Photographer: Alex Brown]

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  • Reply November 13, 2013


    I will most definitely go to Shanghai to take street photos, one day! 🙂

    J. Mortensen

    • Reply November 19, 2013

      Sue Anne

      Come next spring! Or autumn, Shanghai is lovely during these seasons and I’m sure you will love it!

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