Design

Author Justin Guariglia on Planet Shanghai

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Last weekend, the New Yorker published a great review of Planet Shanghai, a wonderful new photography book just released on our Art & Design list. The timing couldn’t have been better. Not a week before, we had asked author Justin Guariglia to share some of his thoughts about the book with our readers, and give us some insight on the unique sartorial habits of the Shanghainese. Seems like everyone is catching on to the pajama craze!

What first drew you to Shanghai? What do you find most compelling about the city?
I first visited Shanghai while a student in Beijing in the mid-nineties and returned many times to photograph the city. It’s quickly becoming the most important city in all of Asia, and I love the pajama culture! Who would have thought people wearing pajamas could take over the world?

What inspired you to create a book of your photographs?
To save a slice of real Shanghai for posterity.

You mention in the introduction to the book that this slice of Shanghai back-alley culture is disappearing. Has it changed in the time that you’ve been working there?
Immensely – developers are taking over the city center and developing it beyond recognition, and the culture is going out with it.

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China seems to be at the forefront of people’s consciousness right now with the upcoming Olympics, the recent uprising in Tibet, and of course the environmental issues tied to the massive development of the country. Was this on your mind as you worked on the book? Does your work speak to any of the larger issues at play?
There’s a pretty serious commentary underlying the light playful images of people in their pajamas in the streets, and in McDonalds, etc. In an increasingly sterile world where public relations firms and tourism boards sugar coat and carefully select themes and images to promote a destination—5 star hotels, modernity, spas, and nightlife—Planet Shanghai attempts to show people the real Shanghai which the tourism board might not necessarily approve of. For me, a city is summed up in its people, full stop.

In the book, you seem to fixate on very specific aspects of the culture (shoes, typography, dogs, etc.) Can you talk a little about your choice of subject matter?
The clicking of the shutter comes from the subconscious—the chapter titles came later after we did the edit and saw trends forming among the select images.

How did the people in the neighborhood react when you started photographing them in their PJs? Everyone seems pretty happy to pose for you.
Well, when I started most people ran from me! Did you ever see the scene in the film Kung Fu Hustle where the landlord is running down the street in her pajamas and curlers—it was pretty close to that! So I adapted, and began to talk with people on the streets and then ask to photograph them. They were just as curious about me as I was about them, and the fact that I’m Caucasian and speak Chinese only helped to make them more curious.

So, really, what’s up with the pajamas?
They are comfortable—I recommend everyone own a pair or two!

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Guinevere Harrison
Copywriter

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