Each city has its quirks and its idiosyncrasies and, Shanghai is much the same and this without exception.
Shanghai has been and, perhaps still is, called the “Pearl of the Orient”. The epithet seems a little benign. A bit like a “shop window”, an outsider’s goggled view of the place. Looking at a pearl through a pane of glass, it doesn’t do much for viewing something close up, does it? The term kind of “objectifies” the place. Seems to make the place even more remote and kind of, well, let’s say, inaccessible. And, Shanghai is so much more than any pearl held aloft and at arms length. That waxy lustre of a pearl kind of wears thin when one is down on the streets of this megalopolis. The place is real and it is alive, alive in many interesting and diverse ways.
In wondering around say Tokyo or, Paris for that matter, there’s a certain air of elegance in each of these cities, something that seems profoundly “urbane”. Shanghai is certainly urbane but, there’s a casualness here you’re not likely to find in either Paris or Tokyo. In fact, you’re not likely to find it in any city in the world except Shanghai. Shanghai is decidedly rough around the edges. But then, where else does one find groups of people gathering together outdoors somewhere to show off their ballroom or tap dancing skills? On one weekday afternoon, I took a short cut through a city park and, down the tree-lined avenue, scores of couple where twirling and whirling as they went through their waltz, cha-cha and other ballroom dance routines. Down at the end of the avenue were groups of women wearing steel shod tap dancing shoes running through their routines. The way they were performing, both in synchronisation and persuasion, one could have sworn that this was the home of tap dancing.
On another occasion and in the evening, I was strolling out along Nanjing Liu, Shanghai’s main shopping thoroughfare, and much the same thing, as in groups of people occupying an area and going through their dance routines. So, this is Shanghai. Where else do they do this? OK, may be Buenos Aires. I haven’t been there. So, I don’t know. Not yet anyway.
There are litany of events and activities that I could list here that makes this city such an attractive and incredible place. But, this we’ll leave that for another time.
“Commuting in Shanghai”, this gallery features something fairly unique to this city. Yes, every city has people commuting in one manner or other, using one mode of transport or other. Mopeds and bicycles are no exception – except in Shanghai. Something happens here and, somehow, there’s something quite unique going down here, something almost somehow purposely different. I’m not sure what – their riding style, their modes of transport, the streets or what? There’s just something.
When I first visited Shanghai in 1994, other than buses used for public transport and the VW Passat taxis, car ownership was virtually non-existent. At that time, the most common form of transport was the humble bicycle. Mopeds and motor cycles were far and few between. On this first visit I became very aware that bicycles were for everyone – not just the preserve of the poor and down at the heel. They were universal in that they served everyone and this across every echelon of society in this mega city.
Like all photographers, some of my best pictures are the one’s I never took. One such picture was of a young women dismounting her bicycle late one afternoon as the sun was going down. The poise and elegance with which she performed this feat amazed me. It was almost a hop, a skip and then a jump as she dismounted this chunky piece of iron. The manner in which she dressed, it was obviously heading out to some social engagement, dressed in a full frilly white dress, with frilled ankle shoes and white lace gloves up to elbows to match. Yes, gloves. She hoped off her bike and then wielded this machine into a parking space crowded with bicycles on this street corner. Once done, off she skipped down the road and out of sight.
On anther occasion, one great picture I saw but never got to take was during the afternoon rush hour and during a downpour. Coursing down this major thoroughfare along which I was walking, wend this colourful mass made up of hundreds if not thousands of umbrellas held aloft over the heads of cyclists underneath. Almost like a multi-coloured snake moving through the wet grass. Still not sure why I didn’t take any photos of this event – shooting film and limited on the stocks I had with me, may have been a factor. But, that was then.
Of the image featured in this post, I was standing at a junction in the Tilanqiao district waiting to cross the road. In the wait, something of a pattern started to emerge, this as mopeds rounded this particular corner. I picked up on it and began making pictures. In the process, I panned for every shot, this as riders leaned into the corner to make their turn. And, the image featured here is perhaps one of the better ones to emerged from this little foray. Of this particular image, I could go into every detail but, I won’t. The woman’s look and the driver’s hair just about say it all. And then, there’s some more.
Elsewhere around the city, it was much the same. In putting in the time, I couldn’t miss – this time and again. I just wish I could have indulged myself further.
On further reflection, I have wondered how I could have fared on doing something like this in say, London? OK, there you have the squads of cyclists doing deliveries around the city but, this is not the same thing. I could go to scores of other cities and conurbations across Asia to try and do the same. But, not the same thing. I could attempt to try the same thing in say Toyko, Paris, New York or maybe Rome, Amsterdam or Barcelona. But no, not the same thing. And, I some how doubt, the results would not be the same either. Yes, China is China, Europe is Europe and the rest. But here, the buzz, the attitudes, the nuances kind of make all this decidedly unique and something that is very specific to Shanghai.
I guess this could be something of challenge to those who have the means and interest to put something in the kitty and have me go out and document this lot – as in elsewhere around the world. If someone has the means, I would certainly be up for the challenge?
“Where can I see more”? you may ask? Here’s the link to the album – https://archive.rogancoles.photos/photo-gallery/commuting-in-shanghai/
That aside, this is my take on Shanghai. Well, at least one facet of it. There’s my blog post about flying kites on “Kites on The Bund”, just another feature of this fascinating city. Enjoy…
TECHNICAL NOTES: This image was taken using a Canon EOS 5D MkII digital capture device coupled with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens.
FEATURED WORK: Rogan’s work is featured on the following websites:
You can find out more about Rogan and why he does what he does here on his ‘Artist’s Statement’ page.