Saturday, 27 November 2010

get back

Going to a heritage visitor attraction in the UK is visiting a museum, no matter what the owners and managers might say about living history. There is no real connection between the presented heritage of the past and the evolving heritage of the present. They are separate worlds.
At first glance this seems also to be the case in China but it doesn't take long to realise that there's a connection here which is lacking in the West. Although every town and city appears to have its own version of Chinatown, as if it were San Francisco or Soho, it soon becomes clear that the front melds seamlessly into the back. Once more, the old rubs shoulders with the new. 

In Zhu Jiajiao cranes tower behind preserved roofscapes while an old man playing an Erhu on a stone bridge sits on a soft laptop-case as a cushion.

On the narrow streets beside the canals, thronged by Chinese tourists, live chickens change hands for the daily meal.

This is one of the many places where the damage created by the Cultural Revolution is being repaired in front of our eyes. But the living heritage is somewhat different. The New China is rising in front of you everywhere, several revolutions happening simultaneously on every side, but predominantly the industrial one with its insatiable demand for more and better communications.

I've rarely seen a better example of form following function to create beauty than the soaring highway interchanges. They can be sen better in a video taken from the new bullet train, which I'll post later in edited form. Of course, many of these skyways have been created at the expense of the destruction of old agricultural villages. Inhabitants are moved to new high rises built nearby. Is their life improved or just changed? Too many told me that it was improved to credit the idea that this is just propaganda.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Shanghai 3

There's a very clear awareness of heritage but a refreshing control on potential excesses of its showing. The Merchant's House is remarkable; but it would only take one or two more to make a bof blasé. The attention to detail becomes the norm very quickly. It's exhilarating finding that the fractals of detail go all the way down to invisible.

And then I start to notice the tones. They have this familiarity to them. I think I know what it is. I take a shot to see if it will translate.

It does.

These are the processes.

I notice that the dark to light contrasts alternate down the view. It looks designed and the design looks familiar, but not in this form. It also looks as if the haze might be being taken into account in this design, as if it's being used to to put a perspective-enhancing grad onto the perceived image.  How would it look in the tone country of Black & White?

The detail of the foreground leaps out, while the background still retains powerful shape even in its reduced contrast.

In the eye-brain complex, one of the foremost tools is edge detection.  There are identifiable sectors of the brain which perform this vital function. In the hyper-fast computation that gives us the the illusion of seeing, edges are primary structure.

Photoshop, being rooted in the wet darkroom and the seeing eye, has an edge detection filter. Within the limitations of doing only that, it helps to show what an extraordinary skill good draughtsmanship is.

And the edges have it. The pattern that now emerges so clearly is an evenly processed derivative of a photograph. No tuning is necessary. When a blue filter is applied, a creditable facsimile of Willow Pattern types appears. The plates are not an idealised fantasy but a clear and accurate representation of an amazing construct, designed precisely for this circular appreciation.

More on environment and medium later...

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Shanghai 2: not to scale

Scale is the consistently disconcerting element in China. In Shanghai, it's the scale of the buildings, their size, their height. It becomes hard to read when they're massed together. It's said that there are more true skyscrapers (whatever they are) in Shanghai than in the whole of America. Century Avenue is currently the home of the big boys.

How big? Numbers won't do it. This series of images may go some way to illustrate the enormity. They are taken from the 83rd floor of what is currently the tallest on the block.

Finally, an artist's impression of the new tower which will become the Big Daddy in a couple of years.

Question: did the artist see himself in a helicopter or in an as-yet unplanned trumping tower?

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Warning: this present is from the past.

I couldn't blog from China. Google and the authorities are having a spat. Google is being pompous with grown-up words like human rights which it doesn't quite understand, China has just turned its back on a petulant child.

This means that anything I write about China is not from there, just about there. I'm here now, just in case you thought I was there, and then feel affronted when you discover I'm not. Some things may appear to happen before other things when they didn't and vice versa.

I do hope that clears things up.

Shanghai 1. Rubbing Shoulders

As a child, the Time/Life Science books entranced me. They were picture books with a decent number of words, covering almost every subject under the sun, and some beyond it. My favourite pages had captions which ended "...where the old rubs shoulders with the new." There always seemed to be endless depths of story in those pictures.

China is a country where the old rubs shoulders with the new so often that those shoulders are bruised black.

Shanghai's perma-haze, referred to on the day of one's arrival as a sea fog that's blown in, but ever after accepted as smog, gives the immensely high buildings the quality of Dan Dare drawings. Mythologies are developing about the structures. Taken from within a completely preserved affluent merchants house, we see the affluent financiers building at 100 Century Avenue, which houses the highest hotel lobby in the world on the 87th floor and is currently the tallest building in Shanghai. Allegedly, it was built by Japanese developers whose original plan sneaked through with a circular hole at the top. The Authorities realised this would mean the Japanese rising sun appearing over Shanghai every day. The circle became a square.

The building next to it was the tallest until two years ago. Forming an equilateral triangle with these two, a third building will trump them both within the next two years. It is already an impressive structure. More on these buildings and their place in Pudong later.