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FACE OF SHANGHAI
by Leslie Zhang 张家诚
The Face of Shanghai is a photographic project celebrating Shanghai and its inhabitants who light up the ‘city on the sea’. In a philosophical ode to Cartier‘s Pasha de Cartier watch, the Place Vendôme jeweller enlisted Leslie Zhang 张家诚, contributor to A Magazine Curated By Simone Rocha (2018), to photograph a group of Shanghai creatives and contemplate the meaning of passing time. “Time, for me, is the process of forming memories,” Zhang believes.
For this series, Zhang was inspired by the traditional Chinese time keeping system that has been used for thousands of years where a day’s cycle is broken into twelve two-hour periods called shi 时. “My memories are deeply rooted in Chinese culture, so it’s only appropriate I did it this way in honour of our culture.” A meditation on time, backdrops shift from dark hues of night, to early dawn, to the bright red of midday, then to twilight completing the sequence. Zhang selected a cast of twelve young people to embody these time periods, each of whom bring a unique perspective to Shanghai. “People in Shanghai are very open and relaxed,” Zhang says. From a dancer, bartender, artist, sales assistant, student, beauty blogger, art curator — all walks of life, who connect to the energy of the city. Zhang’s portraiture is grounded in the classic Chinese aesthetics of formal sittings, offset with symbols of modern life, like a plastic wash basin or a single orchid blossom. “These are the most mundane objects picked out of our daily life,” Zhang explains. “But their designs are very symbolic of a Shanghai household.” With almost surrealist make-up and simply styled hair, Zhang highlights the creatives’ best traits and personalities, distilled particularly well in the black-and-white images.
Zhang, having grown up in Yangzhou a city just a two-hour high-speed train ride away, was drawn to Shanghai for its duality. “Unlike any other cities in China, Shanghai has a balance of moderation,” he reflects. “It has an ease for anyone who lives and works in the city, but at the same time it is also the most vibrant and exciting for new things.” The intersection of historical China with the country’s immediate future sets parallel timelines alongside one another which has a “major impact” on Zhang’s work. “The contemporary aesthetics are often overlooked. People only seem to discover the profound beauty in Chinese daily life from the 80s, 90s and 00s. But Shanghai has witnessed all of that, and it’s still prevalent.” His ability to blend time making new memories — a nostalgia of the future and a longing for a present reality — is what makes Zhang’s work so alluring.
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