Hunter Braithwaite writes about attending the openings of two exhibits now showing at some of Shanghai’s best photography galleries:
Last Saturday evening began with the emphasized passage of time as I sat, and sat, and sat in traffic in the French Concession. Since every gallery has decided that 4-7 pm is the best (and seemingly only) time to hold openings, there are a lot of cabs. First to Taikang Lu to the hidden Beaugeste Photo Gallery.
Eric Mannaerts’ Shanghaiville now on exhibit at Beaugeste Photo Gallery
Despite its martyrdom on the fifth floor of a building on a tourist street, I’m seldom let down with the work Jean Loh puts on. The current show, Eric Mannaerts’ Shanghaiville, is no exception. The Belgian reps his survey of the history of photography skills with some eternalized photos of Shanghai. (I don’t mean to sound crass; the pictures are very nice).
Forced to skip other openings (coordination, guys), we went to m97 to see Life in Cities, the new Michael Wolf exhibition.
Michael Wolf’s Living in Cities, now on exhibit at m97.
m97’s shows are somewhat hard to pinpoint because they are quick to combine several different projects of the artist they are showing. While a good way to trace an artist’s development (or unraveling) this approach makes it difficult to talk about an exhibit in hermetic terms. Each show feels like a mini-retrospective. For Life in Cities, m97 took from four earlier collections, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Streetview, Tokyo Compression, and Transparent Cities, which is an especially strong comment on the obstructions and opportunities presented by today’s city. After so much talk of the Asian megacity, it’s refreshing to see pictures of Chicago’s brutishly solid architecture.
While Shanghaiville thoroughly mined the history of midcentury photography, Living in Cities responds to more current visual issues. Wolf reuses images from Google’s Streetview, stamps out contemporary urban studies, and, in Tokyo Compression, stands on the platform and photographs people held within subway trains. These should be compared to earlier subway photos by Walker Evans who took his pictures from within the car.
More needs to be said about the implications of photographing from outside the car, as opposed to being within the car. In Wolf’s, the sliding doors are just as much a subject as the passengers. In Evans’s, there is a cool detachment, something perhaps captured only after a photo booth flash goes off. Bruce Davidson, another noted subway photographer, claimed that people on a subway seemed “weighed down by their fate.” But whatever the reason, the earlier work seems more serene than Wolf’s much more personal series. It’s interesting that Wolf achieves this personal connection with work that is mediated on several different levels. Most obviously, he is standing on the platform, but we must also consider the impact of earlier work dealing with the eternal theme of the hellish commute.