Fink, who has been chief creative officer of Ogilvy China since 2011, has been photographing Shanghai for the past five years, intrigued by the rapid transition that is taking place in the city.
“Most cities in China are growing at an incredible rate,” he says. “Each week, buildings are torn down and new super shiny structures are put up. These ‘exchange sites’ are the new currency. Famously, in one city, a 33-storey hotel was fully constructed in just 14 days. Shanghai is a Darwinesque metropolis. It’s like watching many generations evolve on time lapse.”
These images offer a glimpse at the sites before they are reintroduced to society, filled with shiny new buildings. There has been much commentary on the rapid change in China though Fink’s photographs do not offer any particular political view, instead presenting a more ambiguous vision, both romantic and poignant.
“I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of death and rebirth,” he continues. “And a city is no exception. Whilst the word ‘destruction’ may conjure up a negative emotion, when you really stop and look and see what is there, it’s incredibly beautiful. Remnants of life amongst the death. A child’s drawing on a broken wall, or someone’s ‘once favourite armchair’ left for nature to own.”
In terms of getting access to the spaces, according to Fink, it was easy, something hard to imagine in the safety conscious UK. “In China, unlike the UK for instance, you rarely hear the term, ‘health and safety’,” he says. “For me, that’s wonderful. It’s so liberating. These ‘Wonderlands’ are very easy to access and even better, they are free.
“It goes right back to my childhood,” he says of this desire to explore. “As long as I can remember, I’ve always been intrigued by deserted buildings, rubbish dumps, or just being in places I shouldn’t have been. There was something about the smell, the slight sense of danger and the excitement of maybe discovering something that was left behind.”
‘Ballads of Shanghai’ is the third Riflemaker exhibition by Graham Fink and will be on show from today until February 14. riflemaker.org