Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Personal Hostory - Lane 390

Image by Rik Sferra

Last night, I watched the film City of God, absolutely stunning, I like the mind twisting way of story-telling, the cinematography and really everything about this film. Most of all, I get emotionally attached to the film's subject matter tremendously, not the gangster part, but the life style of the slums.

I know I really am getting old, because I start to think about the past. Not many of my American friends knew that I was born and grew up in one of the largest slum in Shanghai. In Chinese, Slum is called "Peng Hu Qu", it literally means "Cote & Shed District"in Chinese. For the first 19 years of my life, until some developer had spotted our land, I have lived in a slum in Yang Pu District, near the infamous Su Zhou River. The slum was dark, colorless, smelly, no tree, no animals, just sheds one connected to another. I have rarely seen strangers coming into the slum, if I see one, he is probably lost in the maze and desperately needs to get out.

Four generations of my father's family had lived in the same house. The house I grew up was actually considered one of the best houses in the whole slum, a small two-story brick house with a separate fenced yard and a shared courtyard with five other families and a well which is one of my favorite things at the time. Unlike the kids in City of God or Born into the Brothels, my childhood in the slum was quite pleasant. I had a lot of friends, it was very safe and we invented games to play.

In the summer of 1997, When we first got notice that the section we had lived was in the new developing zone, everyone was so excited to be able to finally move out of the slum. Sadly, no one, has even had a slice of thought of taking a picture of the place. Everyday, I saw families drove their furnitures out of the slum and they don't even look back. One week after the last person moved out, the slum Lane 390, the size of two Time Square, was flattened. Since then, I have never gone back to see the old neighborhood, but from the recent Google Satellite map, I discovered little has been changed in the area since 10 years ago while most of Shanghai boomed with skyscrapers like the speedy growing of bamboo shots.

Well, I hope you enjoy this little bit of personal history of mine. I am extremely regretted that there is nothing has recorded of my childhood and teenage-hood in the slum. This is just maybe why having a camera now and have it with me at all time become so important to me.


mjulius said...

Whoa. That's very interesting. I especially like somehow that you can revisit in an abstract way via satellite.

Though the story alone speaks to the kind of ephemeral detached work that you do.

sijuwi said...

I love that image by Rik Sferra, but I couldn't find more like it

Geoff said...

Shen, I was wondering what you thought about a particular issue in doing documentary work.

Assuming this is the photographer's intention, what do you think are the problems one should avoid when one is creating and presenting photographic work which is both highly personal, and yet wants his pictures to be looked at as valuble 'realistic' historical documents by future viewers? What can a person do to try and deal with this issue?

I often think about how a lot of so-called 'personal photojournalism' seems to fall uneasily into this space.

Then there are also the countless 'ordinary' pictures of people and places that have often unintentionally become valuable historical documents, special in their own way - provided they are found and can make their way to a wider public forum eventually.

I guess there will always be room for both these kind of approaches. I see lots of photographers happy to try and do both these types of work at the same time.

What do you think?


susana said...

shen, that was a beautiful memory, i'm glad you're time in the slum was relatively happy, and that you prove that things are not so black and white when you say it was safe, and what a shame that there is no documentation of your domestic life then.

big hug,