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Yuhuan – a Film Photography Essay

yuhuan china

Images shot on Ilford Pan 400 in Canon Sure Shot AF-7

Yuhuan.

Once you’ve made it there, there’s not really anywhere else you can go.

Literally.

Sitting on its own little peninsula, it’s where the road ends and the East China Sea begins.

It’s not a tourist spot.

Come for the valve factories, stay for the car part industry.

I went for the Chinese New Year and stayed for the next 10 days.

Yuhuan Part 1 – the City

The centre of Yuhuan is what I imagine 100s of small Chinese cities to look like.

Not that they all have taxidermied deer on the street.

Not all of them.

But the predictability of seeing KFC and hearing “laowai laowai” as you mind your own business?

Most of them have that.

Most too will have electric scooters you can frame and closed shops you can use for atmosphere in your photo set.

You could also get hideaway alleys, ramshackle shop fronts, and locals bemused as you find their apartments weirdly interesting.

If you’re really lucky, there might even be a Ferris wheel.

I do enjoy making that kind of photography but if you’re going to leave a place with a tale to tell, shooting what you can find in most other cities seems a waste.

Luckily, Yuhuan offers more outside of its centre.

Take the area on the outskirts, where I stayed with my girlfriend’s wonderful family, for example.

It gave me more than just #streetphotography for my Ilford Pan 400.

It gave me the chance to spin something of a narrative.

The demolition and construction. The disparity and contrast. The deprived and the currencied. The development and change.

Not unique to Yuhuan, I realise and accept.

But still a picture I wanted to paint.

Yuhuan Part 2 – the Water

The water is a big part of life in Yuhuan.

Tell me a coastal city where it isn’t.

Local food often means seafood.

An easy day out might be to the shoreline-hugging Kanmen area.

There’s a beach covered in photogenic grey gravel, a little temple at the top of some steps, and lots of quiet, picturesque lookout points gazing out over the ocean from inside abandoned buildings.

It’s not textbook paradisiacal.

That doesn’t mean it’s not idyllic in its own way.

Another water-based day out in Yuhuan might be to the wetland park that I didn’t get the name of.

The village at Kanmen felt old. Like people have been pulling fish out of the water there for longer than I can imagine.

But the wetlands are new.

Very new.

You could say pre-new.

I’m sure they’ll be lovely once they’re finished.

I’d expected lush marshes and migrating birds and tourist boats gliding between lotus leaves.

What I found was the industrial aesthetic that even rural Yuhuan seemed unable to escape, and a fitting way to end this essay.

Tell me a story with your photography

If I want to see a stream of unrelated photographs I’ll look at your Instagram.

And don’t think I won’t.

But can you tell me a story?

Next time you take a trip to a place, will you return with a bunch of #streetphotography that could be from anywhere or will you show me what it’s like to be there?

I went to Yuhuan with a £2.99 point ‘n’ shoot camera and a couple of rolls of Ilford Pan 400 and came back with these images.

Whatever you think of them, I think you can do better.

Go somewhere and come back with a body of work you’re proud of. Not just single pictures. Tell me a story.

And when it’s ready, let me know in the comments below or on Twitter.

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