Kontakt Photo Missions #03:
Shanghai, China

October 1st, 2021 – In January of 2016, after visiting Bali and Thailand with friends I had a short stopover in Shanghai on the way back to Canada.  The lighting and atmosphere, especially at night, gave it a certain moodiness and glow and made for some great shots.  I only stayed for a couple of nights and the first day I just walked around without my camera to get a feel for the place.  I always feel guilty after visiting new places for not shooting enough, but I was pretty exhausted from 26 days and 3 countries in Asia by this point.

The second day I took the subway to the suburbs to check out the ShangArt district.  A lot of the galleries wouldn’t allow photography but I stumbled across the artist below in his studio where he was living. Although it was still morning, he gave me a glass of whiskey and we smoked cigarettes as he showed me his paintings.  There was a language barrier but he was a character I will always remember.  In the second image, I played with isolated saturation to bring out the colours in the new painting he was working on.

That afternoon my friend Kevin flew in from Thailand. We couldn’t align our flights so they were together but I met him back at the hotel.  After dinner, we took a walk through the city and ended up down at the Bund. It’s located on the western bank of the Huangpu River and had some incredible views.  It’s famous for its grand, Western-style buildings that were built in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. The buildings feature architectural styles from Neoclassical to Beaux-Arts to Gothic to Baroque. The Customs House photographed below is an eight story building with clocktower and it’s seen as one of the great symbols of Shanghai. The design and lighting is pretty amazing and to this day it remains the largest clock in Asia.  Behind it, the Bund Centre Building is a tall tower with a distinctive glowing crown in the shape of a lotus flower.

Customs House bund district shanghai china kontakt films adam bialo

The river was full of cargo ships as well as tourist boats that passed by the infamous Oriental Pearl Tower.  I played with slow shutter to get the streakiness of the neon boat passing by in the photo above. It was a cool January night, Kev and I literally were wearing all the clothes we brought to Bali on us to keep warm and dry.  I had heard about the amazing view from the top of the Hyatt On The Bund. Although it was the touristy thing to do we went up for a $25 cocktail and spent some time shooting from the rooftop patio.  I am glad we decided to go  because the photo below became one of my favourites from this trip and I had it printed onto a 24×36 inch canvas that is still hanging in my loft.

When we walked through the shopping district I was surprised to see so many Western brands and stores like Nike and Adidas.  This was communist China after all and not at all what I was expecting.  It kind of felt like New York or Vegas with all the bright lights and massive commercial district.  We passed Waibaidu Bridge on the way back too and the lighting motivated me to stop and get a few more shots using more of the slow shutter technique. 

Later that night Kev and I went down to check out the French Concession, an area popular for expats and foreign workers.  I was sans camera at this point but we stopped at the now closed Shelter Bar – one of the coolest clubs I’ve ever been to.  The place had been converted from an old underground bomb shelter and was dark, gritty and loud. Oval brick tunnels snaked through different lounges and rooms.

I really need to go back to Shanghai for a proper amount of time and explore the city in detail.  This first visit was at the end of my Asia trip and looking back I wish I had more time and had taken more photos, as per usual!

Look for more Kontakt Photo Missions in the coming months. We’re working on the Kontakt Print Shop where you will be able to buy photo prints, in the meantime contact us directly for Print Options & Pricing!

Copyright Adam Bialo | Kontakt Films | 2021
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