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Shanghai Old and New

the bund waterfront in shanghai china

with F.Zuiko 38mm f1.8

We’re back in Shanghai for this post, and the theme really is Old and New.

Not every picture can claim to be showing an interpretation of that theme, but the five images are a mixture of old and new ones, so I’m claiming that as the link.

The first one is from the Bund; Shanghai’s historic waterfront.

I have fond memories of the place, having first visited in 2009 and then later living in the city for two years.

Going back there recently brought a lot of those memories back. It was a powerful feeling, and wholly unexpected.

This picture shows the ranks of tourists looking across the Huangpu river to Pudong, with its skyscrapers.

I prefer this view, with the old European buildings.

The one with the green pyramid is the Peace Hotel, and was where Christian Bale once stayed as a child as the Japanese were invading.

chinese split pants

From one staple of Chinese life to another here, with the infamous split pants.

This is actually an old picture, taken on a lazy day strolling around Shanghai a couple of years ago, not long after I bought this lens.

I’m sure you can work out the idea behind the clothes.

For the photo, I tried to shoot through the archway created by the line of them hanging out to dry, obviously with quite a wide aperture.

It’s not the greatest picture I’ve ever taken but I think it’s a nice snapshot of ordinary Shanghai life, away from the shiny skyscrapers. Speaking of which…

old shanghai

The unseen, changing face of Shanghai.

What you get shown are the new office buildings – the newly built Shanghai Tower especially; the second tallest building in the world at the time of writing.

What you probably won’t see though is the destruction of the old houses, full of character and stories, and the soulless apartment blocks that are replacing them.

I know the population is growing, the old houses are run down, and people want and deserve better housing.

But once they’re gone, there’s no bringing them back.

chinese hairdressers

Speaking of character, check out these crazy cats.

This is another older photo from when I first bought the lens and was walking around Shanghai.

I came across a hairdresser shop where one of these two was standing outside having a break.

I asked if I could shoot his portrait, which he agreed to, but went and called his mate to come and get in the shot too.

Then they both… flexed.

Hairdressers in China, by the way. Look at them!

“How would you like it cutting, Sir?”

“Not like yours. Ta.” 

Like a shot from the previous Shanghai Street Scenes post, this one isn’t technically perfect. It could be sharper, but I’m not too bothered.

The important thing is to understand why it’s a bit soft, and learn from these kind of mistakes.

Something I learnt in my photography class was about the sweet spot for sharpness in a lens, which is a normally a couple of stops down from wide open.

Shooting wide open usually means the image won’t be as sharp as it could be, and the one above was shot at 1.8.

Now I don’t go wider than 2.8 unless I really have to, and even then I’d rather push the ISO if I need a faster shutter speed than go down to 1.8.

china development

This post’s final picture is a definite old and new shot.

The smaller buildings are 90% empty, with just a few hardy residents seeming to hang out their laundry in a show of defiance.

And also to dry it, I suppose.

I’ve got a similar picture on my Instagram feed, taken at a different time.

The concept behind the picture is nothing new really, as juxtaposition in street photography is very common.

One detail I do like here though is the kind of symmetry between the clothes racks and the overhangs at the top of the new buildings.

It’s not something you necessarily even notice when you’re shooting, but you do often pick up on small details when reviewing your pictures at the editing stage.

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A quick snapshot of a tiny part of Shanghai life, starting with a familiar urban view and exploring things perhaps only known by those who have been to China, with a couple of visual examples of the country and its biggest city's march into a new age of financial muscle, as evidenced by demolition, construction, and shiny new buildings. Come take a look.

 

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