Shanghai Noir : Shades
Epson Archival Matte Paper : 50cm x 40cm
I took this photograph in 2010, a few months after arriving in Shanghai. The city was playing host to World Expo, but there were no superficial clean-ups here, no banners no mascots, no pajama or spitting cops — simply because few tourists venture this far north. Most of the tourist maps stop at Waibaidu, or Garden Bridge, two kilometers away.
Hongkou has always been a tough, no-nonsense area, one of the poorest in Shanghai. But it also has a very special charm, not apparent to the casual observer. Here are street markets unchanged in decades, night markets with crooked neon signs, the remains of the former Shanghai Ghetto (home to 20,000 Jewish refugees in the 1930s), Ward Jail (one of the largest prisons outside the Soviet Union when it was first built by the British in the early 1900s). My workshop was near here too.
But the times they are a changin’ — the slums, the ghettos, the street markets and old communities are slowly but surely being dismantled and demolished. The so-called North Bund creeps closer and closer, rents creep higher and higher. Some of the changes are good, some are not. But one thing is certain: if I leave Shanghai tomorrow and return to Hongkou in ten years, it will be completely unrecognizable to the place I know so well today.
Then again, one can say the same of the entire country — perhaps even the world at large.