Tim Gao – Shanghai, China: Interview on Seamless Spotlight

Recently interviewed with Seamless and thank you for featuring my photographic work on Shanghai street photography!

[Text archived on May 2016, Full article]

Q & A

-How did you first become interested in photography?

When I was browsing around the college library on a sunny afternoon, I was deeply touched and inspired by one photography book of Henri Cartier-Bresson. I still remember the comprehensive photographic collection of his works, including images of Shanghai in the late 1940s, in a straight and yet humorous way. That was around 2009 and one year later taking street photographs became my obsession.

-What camera are you currently shooting with?

Now I am mainly shooting digital photographs with the compact Fuji X100s for my Shanghai street project.

-What word would best describe your style of photography?


-Is there a single philosophy that runs throughout all of your work?

With a curiosity about the world, I find my passion in street photography. Street photography not only enables me to create a documentary view of the unique Shanghai streets and its culture, but it also reveals the extraordinary and metaphorical aspect of Shanghai – an ‘invisible theatre’ of mystery, unease and nostalgia.

When I was walking the streets I tried to capture the ephemeral and dramatic realities and reconstruct them into a new and multi-layered world – the paradise of my lost memories.

-How has your background working with film influenced the way you photograph?

I have shot hundreds of rolls of black & white film on Shanghai project mainly with my compact analogue camera Konica Big Mini F with a 35 mm f/2.8 lens. It is a point and shoot camera and, with curiosity, I walk the streets and take snapshots around me in a quiet, relaxed manner. I feel elated.

Through my eyes and the viewfinder, I click the shutter and capture the fleeting moments. It is quite a simple and spontaneous mode of action to take photographs. I try to be straightforward and honest with what I am seeing. My experience of working with film, to some extent, shaped the way I photograph with digital cameras. Nowadays, I mainly shoot digital photographs with my compact Fuji X100s, with a 35 mm lens too.

-What is your post-production workflow like?

I process my digital photographs in Photoshop and sometimes in Lightroom for contrast, sharpness and exposure adjustment. I try to simplify my post-production as much as possible these days because I believe what’s more important is taking the photograph itself.

When I happen to take a satisfying photograph, I know it in the viewfinder instead of in front of my computer screen. Taking photographs is a process of cutting and cropping the right frames I am attracted to.

-What is your dream project?

As I am also a portrait photographer, one of my next long-term projects is to seek collaborations with models, fashion designers and stylists and try to create a series of portrait photographs with my understanding and introspection of what does Shanghai mean to me.

The metropolitan Shanghai will be dissected and examined either as a physical shooting backdrop or as an emotional concept, in a documentary and experimental manner.

-What inspires you?

I think reading is a great source for inspiration. I am now reading a book by Shanghai writer Yucheng Jin called Fan Hua (meaning Blossoms), for the second time indeed. Written in Shanghai dialect, it’s a novel about the daily Shanghai life of ordinary people, uncovering the most visceral self of the metropolis and the hidden residential lanes.

Another book I have read by Anyi Wang, The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, is also a great novel about Shanghai and the people who reside here. Anyi’s unique feminine narrative of writing vividly visualises the physically fascinating Shanghai and also adds an emotionally intrinsic dimension to the soul of Shanghai.

-What is your approach to street photography like? How do you go about creating your work?

Street photography 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.

As for Shanghai, I have lived here for over 9 years. I always try to explore the urban city and residential lanes (also known as Longtang) that are hidden and unknown to me and contemplate my emotional attachment to the city. Photography is a personal and intentional media, as well as a diary about my feelings of curiosity, mystery and nostalgia.

-How would you advise someone who wants to undertake a personal project?

Try to begin with what you are familiar with. Take as many photographs as you can. A ‘good’ photograph will begin to pop out after you take the very first 10,000 photographs, hopefully.

-Is there a single photograph that you are most proud of?

I always believe the best photograph is yet to come.

-What was the best career advice you were ever given?

“Throw away your books, run into the streets.” – Shūji Terayama


Tim Gao is a freelance photographer from Shanghai, China. With a keen fascination for Henri Cartier-Bresson’s photographic style, Tim Gao has been persistently shooting Shanghai street photography since 2012, being influenced by many great photographers such as Daido Moriyama, Nobuyoshi Araki, Diane Arbus, Josef Koudelka, Marc Riboud, Takuma Nakahira and Issei Suda, among others. His work shows the exquisite craftsmanship needed to obtain street photography, especially with film cameras.

Tim Gao’s official site http://timgao.com/

Fast Facts

Camera: Fuji X100s.
Photographer: Paulo Nozolino.
Food: Spicy crayfish.
Country: Too many yet to be explored.
Hotel: Interesting local guest houses.
Book: Fan Hua (meaning Blossoms) by Yucheng Jin.