About the Photographer
Xu Xixian and Xu Jianrong
Chinese, b. 1942 and 1969
The sights we have experienced in our life may become distant memories in the days to come. The invention of the camera is really a blessing in that it enables us to record the bygone era, otherwise it can only be wistfully recalled in our dreams.
During the 1970s and ’80s Xu Xixian traveled around Shanghai on the weekends with his young son taking photographs of the landscape. Twenty years later the son, Xu Jianrong, began to revisit the now drastically changed locations of his father’s original images. Together they have created a before-and-after portrait of the city that illustrates rapid expansion and modernization and questions the perceptions and social implications of a quickly disappearing past and a futuristic present.
Interestingly, Xu Xixian’s original photographs were made from black and white negatives that have many scratches and imperfections, while Xu Jianrong’s digital photographs are full color and pristine. The technology needed to create highly controlled color photographs was available by the 1970s, making the differing processes used by father and son suggest periods of time more far removed than the actual dates of the photographs. This formal difference further emphasizes the accelerated pace of construction in Shanghai, which appears to have happened over a significant stretch of time in the Xu’s photographs, when, in fact, it took place over the span of only a few decades.
Xu Xixian is a lifelong resident of Shanghai, China. As a young father, he built an attic on the top of his house that served as a small darkroom. This room, which had no temperature control and was barely high enough to stand in, was a laboratory for Xu’s interest in recording the city that surrounded him. Even though he worked full-time jobs to support his family, he remained dedicated to photography for most of his adult life, and has amassed over a personal archive of over 20,000 images. He is now retired and frequently accompanies his son on trips around Shanghai to photograph.