I met Shenyi [沈祎] at the book release event I had for the first book I completed. I mentioned to someone that I wanted to find a Shanghainese film photographer to shoot the next batch of people and they invited her to come meet me. The first book's images were very good and gave the right mood and information I was looking for, but I felt that there needed to be a deeper connection between the images, the audio, and the city that could have only come from a native Shanghainese.
I didn’t know what our collaboration would lead to, but with her artistic background and great portfolio, I felt that she would give this project a more intimate look that matched the depth and engagement that I was looking for the images to have.
Our first shoot was Zijin Lu (future release). It was exciting! As it was our first shoot, I knew we would need to sync our expectations for what we wanted for the rest of the project. Shenyi followed us on the walk as I had done for the previous recordings but I think she wanted some time to find her own story of the location. The images were absolutely amazing. After every shoot, waiting for the photos was so unbearable! Eventually, we would shoot after the walks were recorded, at our own pace- the result of which you can see in these books.
As we progressed and shot the rest of the project, I felt that the images became her own story of the city- to step back and see with new eyes, her connection to it and what it meant to be Shanghainese. Her photos were a document of her own (re)discovery of Shanghai and that is exactly what I wanted. Like the stories, her images gave the city a voice.
It was important to me from the beginning that everyone involved with this project, from the production team to the listeners, shared my feeling of endless wonder for this city and my intention to inspire further exploration and examination. Shenyi’s work is great example of this, showing how a personal document can also be a catalyst for people to (re)discover their surroundings.
And so, here she is.
What is your favorite:
Seafood, chocolate, cheese, and home-made dumplings.
When I was teenager, I love red as the only favorite color. When I grew up, I was attracted to different kinds of greys, like in the "impressionist" paintings. I also like white, and other saturated colors such as mustard yellow, purplish blue, etc.
Poetry, cinema, photography are the three important subjects in my life.
My favorite musician is Portishead.
How did you hear about this project?
I heard of it through one of my friends. The first time I met Terence was at the release of the first book of Growing Up With Shanghai.
What part of Shanghai did you grow up?
Zhabei District. It no longer exists because it was combined with Jingan District in 2016.
Tell me about your childhood growing up in Shanghai.
My parents work in the University, so I grew up in a neighborhood near the school. Most of the residents are the colleagues of my parents and most of the children there were my schoolmates ever since kindergarten. I moved away from that area after I graduated from primary school. The neighborhood still exists, but I heard that most of the apartments are rented to immigrants.
What do you think about this project?
It is very significant. It helps me to explore and discover more about my hometown even though I have lived here for 30 years. It also encourages the protection and the passing down of Shanghainese culture to future generations. We can see the signs of human transformation in building the city, and the resistance of cities to transformation- though these resistances are ultimately futile. In China, all cities may eventually become one, and that is a terrible prospect.
There is an old saying in Chinese, which is: “The spectators see more of the game than the players.” (当局者迷,旁观者清). Terence is a ‘spectator’. It is great that he documents the changes of the city that people aren't usually aware of.
Is it a valuable document of Shanghai? Why?
Yes! It is a document not only in text, but also in sounds and dialect. It is a multi-layered document of this city.
What do you try to capture when you photograph the locations?
Details, the floating and vanishing moment of this city.
Is there a certain photographic style you have for this project?
It’s hard to say. For me, it is like a personal diary, a ‘murmur’ in vision. I deliberately did not record landmark buildings and I wanted to keep the images and narration separate. By doing this, sound, text, and image become a multi-dimensional space. They complement each other, at the same time ask each other questions. I think that we can never objectively record the reality, we can only ‘reflect’ reality. The narrative of all the candidates depends on their memory. It may not be the exact history, but it is their history. These stories are the spark that may help you to recall your own history.
Has it made you learn a little more about Shanghai culture?
Yes. To me, the most moving thing is still everyone’s personal story. Some of these stories I cannot really relate to, but some are ‘closer’ to me. When you finally think that these memories have happened in Shanghai in the past twenty or thirty years, it is quite magical. I also think it is very interesting to listen to the different accents of each narrator.
What equipment did you use for this project?
Most the shots were taken with my Nikon FM2 on a 35mm lens. I also had a Fuji Natura that I sometimes used. One time I borrowed a Mamiya 7 (in Buzhen- future release). The film I used was Fuji and Kodak with different speeds as needed. We would shoot about 3 rolls on a typical walk. There was no post-production on the images that were used save a few that needed a little cropping.