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Disappearing Shanghai: Photographs and Poems of an Intimate Way of Life 1st Edition

4.6 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-1931907811
ISBN-10: 1931907811
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Editorial Reviews


French s photos are intimate, unadorned, black-and-white. They capture moments at the center of a Chinese city in a way that is faithful to those of us who know these places, without resorting to the usual Porsche-beside-a-donkey images of today s China. It s Shanghai, but I prefer the ones that are placeless the photos with no Chinese script to give them away: the alley portraits and sidewalk scenes that could be Helen Levitt s New York, where the settlers were from County Cork not Hunan Province, but who wore similar anxieties and aspirations on their faces.
--Evan Osnos, The New Yorker

Mr. Qiu's verses and prose (written in, or about, the persona of the fictional Chen) now complement the indelible photos of Howard W. French in Disappearing Shanghai: Photographs and Poems of an Intimate Way of Life ... This is a fine potential gift, a work that pleases aesthetically and that documents the crowded streets and ragged rooms of a down-and-out quarter of Shanghai, poor in funds but rich in spirit.
--Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal

We get no clichéd pictures of a beggar in front of a Louis Vuitton mural, no workers looking uncomprehendingly at a Bentley pulling into a five-star whatever. Instead we are thrust deeply into ordinary people s lives, into their tiny living rooms with moldy walls and faded curtains. We see them living out on streets of cracked sidewalks and crumbling facades. We watch them sitting and waiting in poses of leisure. The transience and decay tells us that all this is vanishing.
--Ian Johnson, New York Review of Books ----New Yorker, Wall Street Journal, New York Review of Books

On Howard W. French's Photography

It's not often a writer learns to make photographs. Howard has, big time. These rooms glow with light. The intimacy of stepping into a bedroom; a child reads on the bed, a father, with his laptop, a room of mahjong players, grandpa crashed on a chair, the TV always on. These are tiny spaces, intensely alive in black and white, the future of towering apartments looming outside, the market in the street, the Brooklyn burst of pigeons, crossing the old Shanghai neighborhood, the beds and people on them filling half the room. All doomed to live forever in these gentle loving docs.
-Danny Lyon, Photographer, author of Memories of Myself, and Deep Sea Diver: An American Photographer's Journey in Shanxi, China.

Looking at Howard French's Shanghai, one thinks of Eugène Atget and Berenice Abbott, photographers who captured Paris and New York on the cusp of great change. This is ambitious work, with compositions that are balanced and tight, with beautiful light, devoid of hard shadows, that renders the old Shanghai in vibrant detail. We should thank the photographer for realizing that no number of articles written about these communities could ever bring us this close to the lives he has immortalized on film.
-Ken Light, Photographer, author of Valley of Shadows and Dreams and Witness in Our Time: Working Lives of Documentary Photographers

Within a decade of the invention of portrait photography, studios up and down Broadway offered ordinary people the possibility of preserving their own visages for a modest sum. In 1846, Whitman had a chance to see, in one of those studios (Plumbe's Daguerreotype Establishment), rows and rows of such faces, of persons unknown, persons that, he knew, would soon be part of a vanished world, of whom the only record might be those very pictures. He was stunned by this new way of seeing and sympathizing with human life, and called it, in a marvelously apt phrase, an immense phantom concourse. The images in Disappearing Shanghai contain the same fine surprise. French's images are freed from the dramatic needs of a news report. With a quiet testimonial force similar to the photographs of Atget, they bring us the deeper drama of mundane life. The cumulative effect of the images, all taken in the same half dozen neighborhoods of the city, is of how rich the substance of human experience is, and how reliably it is to be found cheek-by-jowl with insubstantiality, with what is already passing, or possibly already past.
-Teju Cole, from the Preface

----Danny Lyon, Ken Light, and Teju Cole

On Qiu Xiaolong's Poems

The poems herein, bare-edged, allusive, ironic, original and passionate, lay claim to the attention of all those devoted to our art.
Mona Van Duyn, U.S. Poet Laureate

[The book] is filled with beautiful descriptions and poetry (Chen is poet as well as detective) that reinforce the beauty that is being polluted and lost. Magnificent.
Connie Fletcher, *Starred Review*, Booklist

With a poet s eye and ear, Xiaolong Qiu rendered them into poetry in English.
Ha Jin, Author of Waiting

The physical and the intellectual sides of his nature interweaves in this new collection of his poems; they arrest the reader s attention, to show us new edges of the mind, and of many realms of human experiences. These are the mature work of a master whose creativity is fully unleashed.
Robert E. Hegel, Liselotte Dieckmann Professor of Comparative Literature, Professor of Chinese and Chair, Washington University in St. Louis

A distinguished poet in his native China, Qiu Xiaolong distinguishes himself in his English-language poems by his ability to observe and synthesize the most telling details of both cultures, which he knows so well. This book shows the intimate side of the well-known mystery writer.
Catherine Rankovic, author of Fierce Consent ----Mona Van Duyn, Booklist, Ha Jin, Robert E. Hegel

About the Author

Howard W. French is an associate professor at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. Howard is a former foreign correspondent and senior writer for the New York Times, where he worked from 1986 to 2008. He was the newspaper's Shanghai Bureau Chief from 2003 to 2008. He is the author of A Continent for the Taking: The Tragedy and Hope of Africa, which was selected as book of the year by several newspapers. He is also author of a forthcoming book about China's relationship with Africa.

Qiu Xiaolong is a writer who has published, among others, six novels featuring Inspector Chen, including Death of a Red Heroine, which won the Anthony Award for best first novel in 2001. His book, Years of Red Dust, a collection of linked stories in Shanghai, was on the list of Publishers Weekly Best Books of 2010. Qiu was born and raised in Shanghai, where he was a renowned poet and translator. He came to the United States in 1988 and holds a PhD degree in Asian Studies from Washington University.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 126 pages
  • Publisher: Homa & Sekey Books; 1 edition (September 20, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931907811
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931907811
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 8.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #838,931 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Howard French's photos, taken beginning in 2003, capture the disappearing Shanghai I came to know when I moved there to work in 1989. Small rooms with entire families living in them, filled with everyday things turned into small treasures. Calendars or advertisements on the wall to provide color. The ever-present TV. And the alleys, with men sitting--always men. And almost always smoking.

And yet many of these small rooms and barren alleys seem to hold more life than the usually soulless buildings that are replacing them. French's photographs, in black & white, which seems appropriate somehow, take me back to those days in Shanghai and to the honor of being invited into someone's small home--and given the feast of lifetime. (Although food is curiously absent from most of his pictures.)

If only Qiu Xiaolong's poems and prose could speak of those times in as concise and accurate a manner. Or is it that, as a non-Chinese, I saw things the same way French did?

My wife, who is Shanghainese, said we should buy this book so our daughter will be able to see how people used to live. It will serve that purpose well.
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Format: Hardcover
Howard French's photos are remarkable for the engagement they demonstrate between the photographer and his subjects. They differ in mood, but these are not snapshots taken on the fly; they are dramatic portraits of people on the brink of drastic change--the end of their neighborhoods to the wrecking crews of urban renewal. Qiu Xiaolong's poems take us further into reflection on just what these changes mean, and the social, even psychic, costs of economic progress. About a bike repairman: "A city of bikes once, it is/ lost, he reads, to cars." Do notice pp. 8-9, a photo of a woman bundling paper "money" used in sacrifices on behalf of loved ones who have already gone. One cannot close this book unmoved.
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Format: Hardcover
This beautifully produced book, a collaboration between an American photographer and a Chinese writer, acknowledges that a way of life is being lost to Shanghai's frantic economic development, but refuses to indulge in nostalgia.

The photographer, Howard French, is a writer by trade (a former correspondent for the New York Times), but you wouldn't know it from his images. They're the work of an artist -- gritty sometimes, often lovely, lyrical in places, almost always intimate. Even though he served as the Times Shanghai bureau chief for five years, French remains an outsider in Chinese society, not an insider -- but the photos might fool you into thinking that he is. The photos -- which concentrate on the people rather than the architecture -- make it clear that he was able to establish a genuine rapport with his subjects. We see them mostly in old city streets and in their homes. New Shanghai shows up in many of the pictures, but you hard to look carefully to find it -- in the background, on the edges, only once or twice in the center of the frame.

The text by Qiu Xiaolong, is a Shanghai native who's best known for his Inspector Chen novels, is a fascinating mix of poetry and prose. It doesn't always take on the transformation of the city directly. Instead it often guides the reader gently through metaphor and allegory.

Highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover
I first thumbed through the images somewhat hurriedly, looking for old glamour. No I did not find any.
What I found was subtle tracings on faces about life in this glamourous city. Howard French was able to have the people pose for him as though he wasn't there, as though he was a fly on the wall. The children, the old residents, the outside "imigrants" carving out a living ,the resilience of all of them...

The poetry of Qiu xiaolong delicately grace facing pages of each photograph, like a brush barely soaked in sumi ink, invoking imagery upon imageries. This book is not to be missed by anyone who is a student of people and old cities.
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