A simple time-lapse video taken from the balcony of my Shanghai apartment in 2013
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I made this little video in 2013 for ‘international day’ at a primary school in Shanghai. I provided the voice-over and wrote the poem which focuses on an idealised version of the United Kingdom. In my defence, I left England in 1985 and have spent the majority of my adult life in Asia, so perhaps it was inevitable that I would write a saccharine, politically incorrect poem which reinforces stereotypes in the nation of my birth and childhood.
I arrived in Shanghai in 2010. I planned to stay for a few weeks. I left six years later. There were two reasons for this: the first was personal, the second was Shanghai Frames. I was constantly searching for a way to make digital photography unique, something that could not be replicated simply by printing off another copy. I started shooting the old lanes and communities of the city which were being demolished en masse to make way for modern high-rise homes and offices. I photographed the lanes before, during and after demolition. Wandering through the remains of the semi-demolished Lane Of The Hopeful Heart I found a window frame, made of Chinese fir – as old as the lane itself. I started to collect as many of these frames as possible. I paid the demolition crew to save the best ones for me. No two frames were identical and they came in all shapes and sizes. I used the photographs, taken on the lanes before demolition, to fill the frames. In several images you can even see the frame pictured in the lane before demolition. I spent the next year utterly obsessed with shooting and making the frames in a workshop at the top of a condemned mansion, which I shared with the families of the demolition crews. There was no electricity and I would work late into the night by candlelight, putting the frames together.
I set up my camera on a dais on the The Bund promenade one evening to take this time-lapse video set to the 1930s classic, Ye Shanghai (Shanghai Nights) by Zhou Xuan.
After a day of shooting on the streets of northern Shanghai, I would head back to my room, stopping on Zhapu Road Bridge – no matter what the weather – to marvel at the Shanghai skyline. I would often stand there for an hour or more – captivated by the lights, the colour, the architecture. The low, 1920s bridge I stood upon over Suzhou Creek had (and has) great personal significance to me, and I spent many balmy summer nights. The futuristic, almost psychedelic skyline, and historic architecture possess a romance that never fails to move me.
I spent several hours on the Pudong promenade looking across the Huangpu River to the Bund. A time-lapse video with the funereal procession of salt barges set to Lana Del Ray’s song of the same name. Shot just a few weeks before I left Shanghai. The adventure was over, the reason that I had stayed so long in the city had departed. It’s not the buildings and rivers and lights and history that makes a city special, it’s the people.
I took this mobile phone footage from the sidecar of my friend Sammy’s beautiful vintage motorbike. It was a humid, foggy night – the last night of Chinese New Year, and the air was filled with the snell of gunpowder from fireworks and firecrackers. This ride takes in the Bund in its entirety.