Shanghai’s Mean Streets

By: Gustav Hoiland

Feb 09 2010

Category: china

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Focal Length:18mm
Shutter:1/0 sec
Camera:NIKON D80


This is quite the heated photograph.  There’s violence, dominance, grittiness, fiery color, darkness, and more.  But really it’s just two kids at play under incandescent streetlights outside, shot all off-kilter from my hip at a high ISO and slow shutter speed.

Blur your eye and take a look at it.  There’s blackness on top, lightness on the bottom.  Man Left is light, Man Right is dark. There’s two lines leading into Man Right; one dark and one light.  This image is essentially monotoned, done entirely with different shades of red, but in B&W the intensity of it is almost entirely gone.

There’s a couple key contributors to the … I guess raw-ness of it.  Most powerfully, but perhaps least noticeably, is the angle of the camera. We see Man Left all hunched over as if he’s been hit, and I think his perception of the world right now is very out of balance, which is communicated to us through the jilted camera angle. Next we have the blur of the brick sidewalk in the bottom of the frame.  Somehow this ties into the bending over motion, taking solid ground and transforming it into a wash of color.

Man Right’s body positioning echoes that of a boxer after knocking out his opponent – hands down, shoulders forward, stepping back from the big blow.  If you look at his shoes, he’s stepping back into the shadows, albeit just a tiny sliver of a shadow. Finally, the low height from which this was shot makes both figures appear to be adults at first glance.

In reality (a realm which Play is often distant from), these kids are just fighting the boredom of hanging out at their family’s shop all day long, as is common practice in Shanghai.

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