Once Upon a Time in Shanghai

Over the past five years I have been researching, visiting and photographing movie production sites around China: the unparalleled scale of Hengdian World Studios, the 1930s-era streetscape of the Shanghai Film Park, the rustic Western Film City on the edge of the desert in Ningxia Province, and others. China is rapidly taking over as the world’s largest motion picture market. Across the country, entire towns have been constructed around making movies. Movie sets in China are not plywood facades, but monumental fortresses, mazelike palaces, and urban neighborhoods of multistory buildings.

I am especially intrigued by the tension between truth and fiction in these movie towns. Despite their scale, these film sets are mere phantoms of the real world. They are constructed from a hodge-podge of incomplete cultural fragments devoid of context—props, architectural details, and billboards. They were not designed to stand on their own, but to suggest a narrative, extending only far enough to sustain the illusion. In the end, they are brought to life by the stories that are projected on to them.

This work is the basis for the fotobook–‘Once Upon a Time in Shanghai‘ (Daylight Books, 2019).

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