Interviewed with Mull It Over (UK), by Jonathan Cherry.
[Text archived on Jun 2016]
JONATHAN CHERRY: What did you want to be growing up?
TIM GAO: When I was young I dreamed of becoming a scientist or a doctor and I actually studied biological science during my university days. But later I learned photography and even traditional darkroom skills by myself. I turned out to begin my career in photography with an assistant position at a photography studio. Now I am a full-time freelance photographer for portraiture.
JC: Who or what is inspiring you at the moment?
TG: I am now reading a book by a Shanghai writer Yucheng Jin called Fan Hua (meaning Blossoms), for the second time indeed. Written in Shanghai dialect, it’s a novel about Shanghai daily life of ordinary people and vividly uncovers the most visceral self of the metropolis and the hidden residential lanes.
JC: What are you up to right now?
TG: At the moment I am still shooting and editing the photos of my project on Shanghai street photography. I have lived here for over 9 years. I always try to explore the urban city and residential lanes that are hidden and unknown to me, and contemplate my emotional attachment to the city.
JC: Have you had mentors along the way?
TG: With a keen fascination for Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographic style, I have been persistently shooting Shanghai street photography since 2012, being influenced by photographers such as Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Diane Arbus, Josef Koudelka, Marc Riboud, Takuma Nakahira and Issei Suda, among others.
JC: Where are you based right now and how is it shaping you?
TG: I am based in Shanghai and will sometimes travel through out the country when I have photographic assignments for destination shooting. However I like Shanghai most, maybe because, at least partially, I am familiar with Shanghai where I knows a lot of my friends, its streets and even its food.
As for street photography, it is not just a sharp triggering of the shutter to shape the outside world in the form of light and shadow. It is simultaneously a curious observation and emotional perception of what’s happening in the ordinary streets at any moment when unpredictable dramas and realities are actually taking place.
Street photography not only enables me to create a documentary view of the unique Shanghai street and the culture behind it, but also reveals the extraordinary and metaphorical aspect of Shanghai – an ‘invisible theatre’ of mystery, drama and nostalgia.
Sometimes I had a feeling that what drew me to taking photographs was a mood of nostalgia. When I was walking the streets I tried to capture the ephemeral and dramatic realities and reconstruct them into a new and multilayered world – the paradise of my lost memories.
JC: One piece of advice to photography graduates?
TG: Try to be straightforward and honest with your subjects and to be happy with what you are doing.
JC: If all else fails – what is your plan B?
TG: Photography is all that I pursuit. I am fortunate to take photographs everyday.
JC: Is it important to you to be a part of a creative community?
TG: It’s definitely true, I think. Being part of a creative community will be beneficial and inspirational, not only with like-minded photographers, but also any interesting people.