Along the same street


Even after years of living in Shanghai I am still intrigued by the extreme contrast the city can offer between rich and poor, high tech/low tech, western and Chinese customs. You can walk down streets lined with tower blocks with high end department stores on every corner and posh offices and apartments disappearing into the clouds. But in the shadows of the towers are communities living simple lives in basic apartments surviving on a modest annual income far less than the cost of a Prada handbag in one of the fancy department stores.

I took the above picture inside a small apartment complex close to where I live in Hongqiao district. It's very typical of the kind millions of Shanghainese live in. Possibly 20 to 30 blocks of apartment buildings each one 6 floors high with more than 30 apartments in each block. The blocks have no lift only stairs and a labyrinth of narrow lanes connect the blocks. Within the complex there will be typically an exercise area with some simple exercise machines, some benches to sit on and possibly a couple of small shops selling fruit and takeaway snacks. Although most apartments will have aircon it's expensive to run so in the summer people will sit around outside talking, eating and playing cards or mahjong. You step inside the complex away from the noise of the busy streets and the feeling is quite relaxed and tranquil, you get the feeling people know each other and it's a real neighbourhood. Unlike the apartment tower where I live which has a feeling of isolation.

I saw this shot a couple of nights previous when I was walking around taking shots of people relaxing and socialising in the evening outside the apartments. The newly built office tower seemed to stand like a giant between the two apartment blocks and the light from its fancy decoration lit up what is normally a dark alley. To do the shot justice I knew I had to return with my tripod and wide angle lens. I wanted to get some detail in the apartment blocks so when I returned I stopped down to f8 and using the remote took a 10 second exposure. I took the shot with a Sony A6000 and a 10-18mm lens set at 12mm. The raw file I then processed in Lightroom 5 and added a bit of warmth to the apartment blocks and desaturation to the lights and windows of the tower since I found the colours distracting. During the shot a little girl came out of one of the apartments and asked me what I was doing, I tried to explain but my Chinese is so poor I don't think she understood but she seemed happy to have a foreigner taking pictures outside her home. The final picture did well on Flickr hitting the first page of explore so it was well with the return.