Shanghai-based photojournalist Jonathan Browning has covered some heavy topics during his time living in China. From pollution problems, to the life of a migrant worker and even a traveling circus, he’s seen many sides of the unique Chinese culture. His latest series, however, explores a quieter subject: the people and scenes along the Huangpu, a 70-mile long river that flows through downtown Shanghai and empties into the East China Sea. Armed with a Mamiya RZ67 (a medium format film camera that he bought specifically for this project), Jonathan has spent the last eight months exploring along the river for interesting subjects and unseen views of the waterway.
The series is a personal project that keeps Jonathan’s head in the game and pushes him to continue shooting, even when commissioned work is few and far between.
I love assignment work and it gets me really motivated, but unfortunately there are always quiet periods. Doing projects off my own back keeps me motivated and reminds me of why I choose photography as a career. I enjoy the whole process and opposed to assignment work, I can take it as slow or long as I want. Its important to shoot personal work as it can be about a subject you choose and feel a connection to and when you get an image you are happy with its a great feeling.
Using Baidu, China’s version of Google Maps, Jonathan scouts the river and focuses his attention in the more interesting areas, but the project hasn’t been problem-free.
Fortunately I have a Chinese driving license and access to a car, so getting to the further out sections of the river isn’t a problem. The main problem is so much land adjacent to the river is government owned by military or heavy industrial companies, so getting access and bypassing the numerous ‘bao ans’ (security guards) is troublesome. There have only been a few people who I would loved to have taken their portrait whom resolutely said no to me.
Jonathan plans to continue the project, as it has already helped him learn a lot about himself as a photographer, and the city that he calls home.
[I’ve learned that] Shanghai is surprisingly industrial when you get out of the city center, and there are so many security guards blocking areas. Technically, I reminded myself at how much fun shooting on film is; cycling to pick up the scans of the developed film is one of the best parts.
Check out more from the series on Jonathan’s website.