Snap chat: Steven Harris, M97 Gallery

Shanghai’s photography scene is booming as M97 moves to a new space

The ubiquity of the smartphone this side of the millennium has made a photographer of everyone – and the likes of Facebook, Instagram and WeChat our exhibition spaces. Technological advances are making it easier for even the most rookie of snappers to take, and even edit, striking images with just a flick of a finger. So where does this leave the photography we once knew, the skilled and highly technical art form?

The professional photography scene in Shanghai is, in fact, booming, with an array of new exhibitions opening this month alone, including Wang Yishu at C14, Feng Fangu at OFOTO and Charles Pétillon at Magda Danysz Gallery. Alongside these, long-standing M97 Contemporary Photography gallery has moved to a new spot downtown, a distinct space on Changping Lu, near Shaanxi Bei Lu.

‘Over the past decade, photography has evolved in a way that no one could have ever predicted,’ says Steven Harris, M97’s director. ‘Our conception of it evolves too, as it is now an extremely accessible medium. One which almost everyone believes they can universally understand as a visual language.’

Harris explains that while it’s easy to become overwhelmed by photography in the digital world, the rise of social media and new technologies have helped to grow the art form like never before. ‘People often tell me that photography is one of their favourite art forms, but they’ve never been to a photography gallery,’ he says. ‘The accessibility of photography is amazing, and the world of photography owes a lot to the rise of camera phones – however much the art world might wish to dispute this.’

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Our constant exposure to photography may mean it now takes more to impress, which for Harris, is both a challenging and exciting prospect. ‘Personally, I hate taking my own photos now, and I own a photography gallery. It is just as easy to drown out skilled photography in large, open art galleries, as it is by being exposed to amateur photography every single day. Big gallery spaces can become a superficial experience. In smaller, more interesting spaces, the artist is able to play with the succinctness of the space, and the viewer is forced to try and understand the levels of nuance involved in the works.’

M97’s current exhibition is Luo Dan’s When to Leave, which uses unique collodion wet plate processes to produce timeless images of desolate Chinese landscapes. Their unique new gallery space takes over a long, narrow converted 1940s factory, set against the backdrop of the city’s urban rooftops. ‘When Luo Dan saw the space here he was fired up about it. Our space enables the artists to surprise themselves with what they can do.’


At C14 Gallery, Wang Yishu’s new exhibition uses photography to explore the possibilities of the human form, as an art that lends itself exceptionally well to encouraging the audience to imagine what could be going on outside of the work itself. Taking an entirely different approach, Feng Fangu at M50’s OFOTO uses his photography as a way of manipulating time frames, taking the audience on a historical journey inspired by the mysterious tale of the twelve bronze heads of the Chinese zodiac statues that were looted during the destruction of the Old Summer Palace of the 19th century.

So this month put down your phone and take a stroll along to one of the city’s fascinating photography exhibitions. ‘We want to educate people on the technicalities behind spectacular photography,’ says Harris, ‘and show that as an inherently mixed medium, there is so much more to it than a few filters on a phone.

Luo Dan’s When to Leave is at M97 Gallery until July 16 June.

Wang Yishu’s Open Ending is at C14 until Sunday 19 June.

Feng Fangu’s Confusion is at OFOTO until Friday 1 July. Entry for all shows is free.