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Disappearing Shanghai: Photographs and Poems of...


Disappearing Shanghai: Photographs and Poems of an Intimate Way of Life

Photographs by Howard W. French
Poems by Qiu Xiaolong
Order No. 1084
ISBN-13: 9781931907811
Binding: Hardcover
Publisher: Homa & Sekey Books
Pub Year: 2012
Language: English
Size: 8.75 x 8.25
Page: 126
Price: $29.95
After 20% discount: $23.96

“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
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“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
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“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
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A Shanghai That Didn’t Last by Howard French
“By the time I moved to Shanghai, in 2003, the most famous features of the city were so well known that even first-time visitors could arrive enjoying a feeling of familiarity…”
--International Herald Tribune / New York Times
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Book Description:

This book is a photographic exploration of life in the old and rapidly disappearing quarters of Shanghai, with accompanying poems and essays by the author of fiction and poetry, Qiu Xiaolong.

The photographs, all taken in a documentary style over a period of five years, represent an intimate and invaluable visual natural history of a way of life in the workers’ quarters and other central districts of the city that held sway throughout the 20th century and into the early years of the 21st century, before yielding to the ambitious ongoing efforts at urban reconstruction.

Mr. Qiu, whose best-known books are largely set in this old city, where his protagonist Inspector Chen walks around in investigations, is suited like few others to provide a lyrical accompanying text whose purpose is to celebrate the life, beauty and texture of this world before it has vanished altogether.

No photographer has pursued this subject with more dedication and persistence than Mr. French, whose photographs of Shanghai have been exhibited on four continents. Taken together, the work of these two contributors offers compelling esthetics and lasting historical value for lovers of Shanghai, past, present and future.


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.

Praise for 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

Praise for 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

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This product was added to our catalog on Friday 03 August, 2012.

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