A retrospective of turn-of-the-century Shanghai
Photographer Xu Haifeng's solo exhibition "Shanghai Faces at the Turn of the Century," which is ongoing at M50 Art Park, casts a vivid, wistful glance backward at the city's urban changes and social development around 20 years ago with a total of 175 photos and a 14-minute video.
The 53-year-old's lens has always focused on Shanghai – its old-fashioned houses, busy streets, people and their daily lives in the traditional back lanes.
From renovation projects on Nanjing Road E. and Huaihai Road and the construction of Metro lines and highways to old downtown neighborhoods and residents' relocation, the pictures on display are a precious visual documentation that provides a humanistic retrospective as well as a chronicle of how Shanghai has turned into a modern mega-metropolis in just two decades.
"These pictures remind people of the days when the city underwent great changes and provoke them to think about the future," Xu said.
He doesn't consider himself a nostalgic person, but the transformation between yesterday and today in Shanghai has always fascinated him.
The turn of the century was undoubtedly a critical moment for the city, a moment when we ripped down the old and set up the new, waved goodbye to the 20th century and looked forward to a promising future. It was also a time that mixed uncertainty and prospects, worries and excitements, anxiety and anticipation.
As a photographer and reporter, Xu keenly sensed the changes in the surrounding environment and people's mindsets. With his film-based camera in hand, he trekked through the decaying neighborhoods of dilapidated houses, sneaked into empty rooms after relocation, joined the crowds on busy streets and ventured into the city's major construction sites, which have become the city's landmarks today.
The photos exhibited are just a small tip of the 2,400 rolls of film he took around the turn of the century, many of which are street photography, a way Xu chose to connect himself with the world and bring back the real moments that stood out.
"He doesn't intend to tell a story in his pictures. As a matter a fact, nothing happens in the photos," said curator Shi Hantao. "He only captured a certain gesture or an expression of people. The gestures and expressions are vivid, natural and full of tension that builds up to a point where it seems almost unbearable."
People in his photos are all random, but the way they dressed, walked and talked reveals a strong message from an era 20 years ago.
"When we observe these radiant or withered, glittering or dismayed, beaming or worrying faces, we can't help guessing what kind of lives these people were living behind their appearances, expressions and gestures," Shi said.
Dates: Through October 14 (closed on Mondays), 10am-5pm
Venue: Shanghai CMYK Art Space
Address: Rm 212, Bldg 4, 50 Moganshan Rd