The Double Shanghai Film Photography Project [Shanghai GP3 100]

shanghai film photography

Images shot on Shanghai GP3 100 in Yashica Electro 35 GSN

I’m not going to do the actual maths here, but I’d say over 99% of my Shanghai film photography while I lived there was done on 35mm.

The only exceptions were some 120 I put through a borrowed Holga, a project I did on Fuji Instax, and a roll of 110 film I shot in my mother’s old Kodak Ektra 250.

For most of the time, this suited me just fine. I didn’t particularly want to diversify to other formats and there’s more than enough different 35mm films I still need to get through.

The only thing I wished was that Shanghai GP3 100 was available in 35mm too, as it had been a medium and large format film only for years and years. I did shoot a couple of rolls of the 120 version in the aforementioned Holga, but 35mm would have been more my thing.

And then it happened. Some time in the summer of 2019, they announced what I’d been waiting for. GP3 in 35mm. Of course, I bought a roll. And then I had to think about how best to use it. What exactly to shoot with it.

The answer I came up with was just… Shanghai. Shanghai on Shanghai. The double Shanghai film photography project. Read on to see how, from planning to processing and finally to publishing, it turned out.

Planning my double Shanghai film photography project

Because I only bought one roll of this Shanghai film, I only had about 36 exposures with which to make my meta Shanghai film project. This meant thinking about what and where to shoot in the city. Then making a list. And then planning a route.

That route took a couple of things into consideration. First was whether I needed to hit each place in the morning or afternoon to have the sun shining in the best direction. With that figured out, I could batch them together to get a few done at the same time and minimise traipsing back and forth across the city too much.

I don’t remember exactly how many locations were on my list now. Some were landmarks that were pencilled in for a single shot while others were larger areas that I would get a couple of photographs from.

I do remember having to be careful, though. I had a couple of spare exposures to play with but I had to use them wisely. Unless I really felt a photograph I took was mistimed or just bad, or I had a better idea after shooting one, I would only be using a single shot for each thing on the list.

As for the style, I didn’t want to just produce a bunch of postcard cityscape shots, but I didn’t want to shoot random street scenes that could have been anywhere in Shanghai or any other Chinese city either.

What I came up with was a list of places the viewer could recognise, but would be the backdrop to some street-style photos. I wanted the locations to be obvious, but I wanted some people to be prominent in them too.

And while I say obvious, there was a balance to be struck there too. What I had in mind was for some to be the places recognisable by anyone who has ever visited Shanghai, and others to be lesser-known yet familiar to those who have lived there for a reasonable length of time.

This first batch right here, including the couple of images you’ve already seen, was shot at a couple of Shanghai’s best-known and most visited places. The Bund on one side of the Huangpu river and Lujiazui on the other.

You might notice that I used up a few of my spare shots here already, which wasn’t a great start to this thing.

shanghai pearl tower

Part two of the Shanghai project – Nanjing Road and People’s Square

A short walk from the Bund are a couple more of Shanghai’s most popular areas. For tourists, a walk down East Nanjing Road is pretty much a necessity when in town. For those who live there, it’s usually avoided at all costs.

I’ll confess that I didn’t actually mind the occasional stroll from one end to the other. It reminded me of the days when I was a tourist too, which is a time that always makes me smile to look back on.

Perhaps surprisingly for one of the city’s main shopping areas though, especially considering I enjoyed people watching there, I never found it to be that good for street photography. Perhaps there’s not enough variety along its length.

The nighttime lights came in handy for this roll of CineStill, but the daytime was often a little uninspiring. Still, thanks to the nature of this project, I had to get one or two from there. So, making sure to include a couple of recognisable structures in the background, that’s what I did.

When you get to the end of East Nanjing Road, you find yourself at the People’s Square and People’s Park area. One of my very favourite buildings in Shanghai is here – the imposing Park Hotel.

It features twice in this project because I had to make sure I got it in at least once and I thought I’d messed up the first one.

Part three of the Shanghai project – Jing’an Temple and the Old Street

Once you’ve finished at People’s Square and People’s Park, a short walk down West Nanjing Road brings you to another of Shanghai’s best-known spots.

Standing right outside the Jing’an Temple subway station in the central Jing’an district, Jing’an Temple is a place any self-respecting tour guide will take you to while any local looking for somewhere for regular worship might well steer clear of.

It was a must for this photography project, though. A couple of shots of it from the outside, at least. I went inside on another occasion and shot it on some Portra 400, which you can read about here.

Another place firmly on the tourist route that most long term residents will probably not visit too often is the area around Yuyuan Garden and the so-called Old Street.

Officially called Fangbang Road, it’s a collection of shops in old-style buildings selling newly-produced souvenirs that are made to look like antiques.

While I’m sure it is an old street in the sense that it’s been there a long time, you’re not going to be seeing a genuinely old residential community or ordinary local way of life in Shanghai there.

The nearby areas of Laoximen and Xiaonanmen were far better for this, but they were being swept away while I was there. Depending on when you read this, they may well all be gone.

For the aim of this Shanghai film photography project though, which was to include places recognisable by many, Fangbang Road was far more suitable than a random street in some place that might not even exist anymore.

Part four of the Shanghai project – the Former French Concession

Another area I could not leave out of this project was the Former French Concession, and some particular places in it too.

The name comes from when Shanghai was divided up into foreign areas after the Opium Wars, with this part of the city being conceded to the French. Work began on creating what is now the Former French Concession in 1849.

Back then, it was one of the nicest parts of Shanghai. And today, with its tree-lined streets and boutiques and restaurants in old colonial buildings, it still is.

One of the most popular parks in the Former French Concession is Fuxing Park, which is full of the usual dancers, tai chi practitioners, and card players when the weather is good.

It’s also where you’ll find the large stone effigy of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, who between them obviously had a large influence on the current Chinese political situation.

The final three shots below are from a place called Tianzifang, which is another place that’s probably more popular with visitors than residents of Shanghai.

A collection of souvenir shops, bars, cafes, design studios and art galleries set in old shikumen houses, it’s another touristy place that I didn’t mind the occasional trip to. It was always more enjoyable than the soulless and overpriced Xintiandi, for me at least.

With its narrow lanes and two or three storey buildings, Tianzifang is – unlike most places in Shanghai – best visited around midday if you want to get some good light and shadows for your photography. The sun is just too low if you’re too early or too late.

Part four of the Shanghai project – everywhere else I had to include

The final part of my double Shanghai film photography project features a few places that can’t really be grouped together geographically like we’ve been doing so far but that I had to include anyway.

The first two are from Longhua – the first of these at the temple with its pagoda that featured in Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, and the second from the neighbouring Martyrs’ Memorial Park. Both places are semi-well-known in Shanghai, and I have fond memories of visiting them numerous times too.

Next are two shots from the China Pavilion from the 2010 World Expo. Now the China Art Museum, it’s not a place that I personally feel much attachment to but is here as a city landmark worthy of inclusion in this type of project.

The next two photographs were taken for similar reasons. The train station was as good a place as any to get the word Shanghai – as seen in the huge 上海 characters on the roof – into this thing, while the big globe represents Xujiahui, another area that it would’ve felt incomplete without.

The final shot of my Shanghai film project is from a place that is actually quite dear to my heart. I think Qibao is a place most people visit rather than live at, and I recommend you go see it too if you’re ever in town. For me though, that neighbourhood was home for around four years.

It perhaps wouldn’t be an essential inclusion in anyone else’s set of Shanghai photographs, but it had to be in mine. Having left the city and thinking back from a distance, I can say Qibao is my favourite place there.

Looking at that bridge now as I write this makes me miss the place like no other photograph on this post does, and so I’m just going to leave it at that.

Wrapping up this Shanghai film photography project

Well there you have it. Some of Shanghai shot on Shanghai GP3. The double Shanghai film photography project.

I wonder where else you could do such a thing with another film stock? Ilford and Kentmere are both places in England. And there’s always Mount Fuji over in Japan too.

Regardless, I’m very happy to have got this one done before I left. I’m glad they brought a 35mm version of the film to market, and I’m glad I was still in Shanghai when they did so.

In fact, I’m grateful I was able to spend the time I did there that I did. Not everyone gets that opportunity, to experience a place so far from home and for so long that it becomes home for a while.

I think it’s time to end this post, and I’ll do so with something you can think about and hopefully put into action.

This was just my film photography project. Shooting in a city dear to me on a film of the same name felt important to do while I had the chance. So I did it.

But what film photography project is important for you to do, while you can? The theme is up to you. So is the film stock you use.

Both are none of my business, although you can get some rolls of this Shanghai GP3 from eBay or from Amazon if you want. Or just from these places if you’re in Shanghai yourself.

You can tell me about your project in the comments below or on Twitter or Instagram, if you want. You don’t have to though. Just having you read this and it inspiring you to get something done too is enough.

Putting your ideas into practice and getting something created is more important than telling the world about it. So why not think about how you can do that? 🙂

If you enjoyed that post, why not take a look at these others to stay inspired or learn more about some other films I’ve shot and reviewed:

  1. My comprehensive review of the 120 version of Shanghai GP3
  2. Shots from my Qibao neighbourhood with a cheap point ‘n’ shoot
  3. Shooting another great monochrome film in Shanghai

And if you think others will enjoy this post on shooting some Shanghai GP3 in Shanghai too, help them find it by sharing or pinning.  😀

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