Getting the shot in Shanghai

February 3, 2010 · 2 comments

7-620-41  stock photo of China, Shanghai, Buddha, Longhua Temple

Focus. Concentration. Iconic. Impact. Travel images work best when they communicate simply and directly with the viewer. Making a simple picture, however, is often more difficult and time-consuming than taking a complicated photo. The difference lies in the process of engaging with the subject — a culture, city or location — over a long period of time until you find out what to shoot and what to leave out.

Shanghai is a fascinating mix of super-modern, cutting- edge architecture and a traditional cultural sensibility dating back thousands of years. The city presents itself as crowded, chaotic and fast-moving, day and night. For the first few days of a week-long shoot I focused on capturing the obvious landmarks: the Pudong skyline across the Huangpo River from the Bund, crowds on Nanjing Road’s busy shopping promenade, market stalls, noodle and dumpling shops, the steady flow of river boats and early morning tai-chi practice.

Working a city is always a similar process for me. There’s a gradual shift from the obvious to the subtle, from cliché shots to more uniquely seen images. Once the everyday shots are taken there’s time to wander and see what appears next. Sifting through the onrush of perceptions and sensations, I gradually become aware of key iconic themes that can speak more simply of the experience of a place and a people.

In Shanghai I wanted to show the traditional religious and spiritual basis of the culture, now re-emerging since the opening of China to the West. Beneath the frantic 21st- century world of commerce and business is a deeper flow of traditional culture, still vital after all the upheavals of the last century. Several Buddhist temples are open to tourists. I chose the large complex of Longhua Si on the outskirts of the city. I arrived just after sunrise on a Sunday while residents were still coming in for morning practice and meditation.

(Also published in SATW traveler. Thanks to Christine Loomis for editing help. )

(yes I know the same image was used in the post on Creating Value in Travel Photography. Sorry, it just worked out that way.)

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