Lost Shanghai : The Balcony
I know nothing of the former French Concession or the bars and nightclubs of Shanghai. They hold no interest for me. Those infamous Art Deco mansions and villas have been photographed and documented to death: pimped up for foreign consumption with prices to match. The buildings have no soul, the lanes are pretty, picture-box affairs, the people who populate them are cynical, self-centered and without story.
For me, Shanghai is and always will be Hongkou — that forgotten and snobbishly dismissed area to the north of the Bund. Most people think Hongkou is a grimly poor and industrially grey area of the city. It can be that, of course. But there is also magic in Hongkou. The shikumen, lilong and old communities (that is, the few that have avoided the wrecking ball) are naturally raw. Few tourists venture here — it is a long hike from the safe haven of five-star hotels and ‘the Nanking Road’.
What I will take with me, when I finally leave Shanghai are the memories of those first two years: shooting day and night, night day … mesmerized by the architecture, people, history, energy and sadness of this area which I call Lost Shanghai … lost because it is largely overlooked, forgotten and disappearing more rapidly than the bison of north America in the 1800s.
This picture might as well have been taken a hundred years ago. The people are gone now, the villa is no more — destroyed recently to make way for the glorious future.
The house was was built in the early 1900s and — for a short time — was my home. I loved it very much.