Guariglia

Planet Shanghai

2008

THE NEW YORKER

BRIEFLY NOTED

By

 

It’s amazing how much you can accomplish in Shanghai while wearing pajamas. In recent years, Shanghai newspapers have worried that this sartorial habit will give the city a slovenly image, but it seems that many natives see little divide between public and private space. Justin Guariglia, an American photographer who lived in Asia for nearly a decade, captures the city in its most informal moments. His book includes dozens of portraits of pajama’d Shanghainese: visiting the supermarket, riding motorcycles, walking dogs, playing mah-jongg, going to McDonald’s, smoking cigarettes. Guariglia works close to the ground; he shoots the undersides of bridges and the sheen of vegetables at the market, and includes no fewer than sixteen pages of footwear, a common Chinese obsession. His search for street style uncovers moments of unexpected beauty: a rainbow pile of scrap wire, a heart-shaped decoration on an anti-theft gate, a boarded-up door crisscrossed with lines as straight and true as a calligrapher’s best brushwork. 

 

 

 

The New York Times Style Magazine


His search for street style uncovers moments of unexpected beauty.
In a series of photo essays, Guariglia provides extensive evidence of Shanghai's attempts to graft the exotic and new onto the indigenous and traditional. The results are fascinating, often perplexing. In a chapter called "style," we get glimpses of two mismatched knee socks cut off at the instep (Prada's inspiration last season?), worn with thong sandals, of full-face plastic visors that look like lampshades, of punk-colored hair and black fishnets all juxtaposed with the pajamas that the locals seem to have adopted as civilian uniform. (Until this book, I though that only writers lived in their pajamas.)

 

The pile of bicycle tires and a wooden folding chair in the section called "Still Life" would have appealed to Recycler Wang. A lace tablecloth is draped over a motorcycle. In "Daily Life," a scene of checkout lines at a store imparts a mind-boggling sense of scale a sea of heads and a maze of shopping carts so vast that it makes Costco look like a boutique operation.

 

In his foreword, John Krich calls Guariglia's photographs "an act of visual preservation, a catalog of close kinship-like living, with no sordid detail or curious impulse spared, at once touchingly intimate and strangely open, bred by conditions soon to be reduced to rubble." Indeed, there is something precarious about the moment these images describe. "Over the course of my travels," Guariglia observes, "I began to realize that authentic slices of culture that have withstood change over centuries, and may still provide a portal inot ancient traditions, are truly becoming a global anomaly. They still exist in some areas, but they are unfortunately dwindling rapidly, amid the worldwide assimilation of cultures and societies."