It happens, I guess.
You head off on a trip with the greatest of intentions. Camera in your bag and a head full of pictures you’ve seen on Google images that you’ll definitely be able to make better versions of.
And then circumstances conspire and you come back with not much to show for your time away but a blog post explaining how you’ve not got much to show for your time away.
This is what happened when I went to Nanxun water town, just outside of Shanghai, China.
Nobody can say it’s not a photogenic place, as you can see from this tweet I did at the time. So why did I come back with just four shots on my roll of Fujicolor Industrial 100?
Read on and I’ll tell you.
What and where is Nanxun?
Nanxun is one of a few small water towns not far from Shanghai.
First established over 750 years ago, it prospered in the Ming Dynasty of 1368 to 1644 AD and became one of China’s richest towns, thanks mainly to its silk merchants.
Nowadays the main industry appears to be tourism.
It’s a similar town to Xitang, which I visited a few years back, and also not too dissimilar (although much larger than) Qibao old street in Shanghai itself, which I’ve been to more times than I can remember.
Getting there isn’t too difficult either, with Shanghai to Nanxun buses leaving from different stations around the city multiple times a day.
So far, so good.
Why did I come back from Nanxun with four photographs?
One thing I don’t like about certain tourist towns in China is that you have to pay to get in.
It’s absolutely fair enough for things like the Great Wall or the observation deck of some skyscraper. But charging people before you let them into a town just seems ridiculous to me.
If I remember correctly, a ticket to get into Nanxun ancient town was 100 RMB. More expensive than the bus to get there and back, more than the hotel we stayed in, and more than all the meals you’d eat in a day put together.
And for a place little different to what I’ve seen plenty of times before and uncomfortably full of tourists anyway.
You can get in for free after 5pm, though, and that seemed enough. We could go in and find somewhere for dinner and drinks as the sun set and stay as the lanterns lit up.
So we spent a day in and around the newer town outside the paywall, drinking coffee, chatting, and trying to keep ourselves and our dog cool in what felt like 35 degrees heat. We could go into the old town later.
Even with ISO 100 film, the daytime sun felt too bright to shoot in. There was no shadow and would be no contrast to the shots, and the streets were hardly inspiring anyway – especially when it was too hot to even be outside for too long.
I thought I’d save the film for after 5pm, once we got into the ancient town.
The problem with that plan was much of the tight riverside streets being mainly in the shade by the now setting sun, and me being exhausted by the heat by then anyway.
By that point, I just couldn’t be bothered.
A failed photography trip to Nanxun water town?
Writing this up now, the idea of going to Nanxun and not buying the tickets sounds silly. You could ask what the point of even going there was if you don’t then go in until the day is nearly over.
In truth, if you’re not interested in photography, it’s not a bad plan when the weather is so hot anyway. Chilling outside and going in after 5pm didn’t make for a bad day. It was just a bad day for photography.
Calling it a failed photography trip could be accurate if the failed refers to the photography, but not if it refers to the trip on the whole.
And what’s more important, really? The time spent with the people or the photographs you have to show for it?
Think about this too: if we’d gone into the water town during the daytime, we might have gone home early, and then I’d never have got to see the women of the Jungle bar throwing it down.
… p.s. if you liked this piece on coming back from Nanxun water town with just four photographs and think others will too, why not give it a share?