Bettery Magazine: In the Q&A section of the magazine, you answered Dr. Joachim Schmidt’s question with your fascinating city silhouette pictures. Could you tell us a bit about this project.
I came up with the idea after spending some time in Tokyo and then Shenzhen. I felt quite excited to be in Tokyo and quite amazed by the energy, scale and creativity of the city and culture…but I also felt a sense of not understanding the culture or even a sense of my own location within the city’s layout. So going to the top of the towers with observation decks was a way of grounding myself within the city. I could get a sense of scale and the layout of the city below me.
The images came out of being up high and having the various ideas about the city below playing in my mind. I think the images are kind of open, neither positive nor negative about what it’s like to live in such a vast metropolis. But I think when you see the sheer scale of these cities and think about just how relatively new they are in terms of having the technology and developments to be able to live like this, you can’t help but have a feeling of wonder and awe.
The people in the images sometimes look very detached from the city, yet their silhouette is enabled and filled by the city. Do you feel that cities shape people?
Yes, I think different cities have different atmospheres. I think it depends on the size of the city, the geographical location, the local government, the weather…There are so many different factors that go towards creating a particular city’s mood and feeling. All of this then, in turn, has an effect on the people that live there. I don’t think you can separate the two. A city and its people are interwoven.
You live and work in Beijing and Shanghai. What made you want to live there? What are the positive aspects of life in the two megacities?
I was attracted to China, specifically Beijing and Shanghai, because of the energy and sense of open possibilities. I think they are very interesting places to be right now, especially with the speed of change and reinvention that is going on. Obviously there are a lot of questionable or negative things that come out of a society that is changing this quickly, but in terms of being somewhere in a time and place that is unique I think it’s the right place to be.
Originally you are from London. How do the Chinese metropolises vary from your hometown?
The Chinese cities vary from my hometown London in many ways. One way is the lack of regulations or red tape; that mean that parts of the city can be torn out and reinvented very quickly in China. Also the mixture of ideas, East/West, new/old makes living in Chinese cities particularly different to a city like London that seems a lot more sure of who or what it is and where it is going. I think a lot of what’s been put up recently in a city like Beijing is about now and won’t necessarily be around in 20 years.
Do you think there are things the cities could learn from each other? Is there something that one manages well, that the other has yet to accomplish?
For me the most successful cities are the ones that manage to keep their stories and their history while constantly changing: places that respect their own history while not remaining enslaved to it. I like cities that have layers and layers of stories.
Photography has the ability to very clearly embody single moments and emotions. If you were to symbolize the current state of cities in one image, what would it show?
I’m not sure that one image could properly sum up the state of a city. If it could, I think time would have a lot to say in which one that image would be; when looking back to another era, it seems that certain images really seem to jump out. But I’m not sure that we can objectively pick those images from our own time. There are just so many different voices/stories within a city that it would have to be many viewpoints rather than a singular one.
Interview: Lia Pack