Photography: The Landscape Within

Howard French, former New York Times Shanghai bureau chief, spent the summer documenting through photographs the people who live in Shanghai’s disappearing neighborhoods. He wrote an essay about the project for the Times earlier this month. He has now posted many of his photos on his website, together with an essay titled “The Landscape Within“:

Some of the neighborhoods where I did my early photography have already been demolished and in some cases already rebuilt, their old inhabitants long since scattered.

Fragments of other neighborhoods barely cling to existence, meanwhile, like doomed convicts, knowing the end is near.
I returned to Shanghai last summer to re-enter this world, with a feeling I’ve had each time I’ve returned from an absence of more than a few weeks — that this was perhaps the last time.

Asked how he chose his subjects, Paul Strand, the great early 20th century photographer had this simple reply: “They choose me.” And so it has been for me with Shanghai. Beyond this, in such matters there are no ready-made answers.

One knows what one feels, though, and one thing I can never forget is the thrill of walking and of engaging my mind’s eye in a world where so much of life seems to be lived in the open; where everything appears to be constantly on display.

The photographs can be viewed here.

Listen to a CDT podcast interview with French from 2007.