Greg Girard is a Canadian photographer living in Shanghai, and documenting some of China’s fringe architecture (whether on the edge of destruction, or ad hoc growths):
Vancouver-based photographer Greg Girard visited Hak Nam several times in the late 1980s, in spite of warnings that he was putting his life in danger (the place was renowned for its criminality), recording both the physical and the social fabric of the settlement, and the relation between the two. The fact that Hak Nam, in architectural terms, grew organically over time according to its inhabitants’ needs, as opposed to being constructed according to a pre-existing blueprint, made the city’s take on ordered chaos particularly compelling. As new-comers arrived, changing the social make-up of the community, so their built environment changed.
‘City of Darkness’, a book of Girard’s Hak Nam photographs, was published in 1993 (Watermark Publications), offering a series of compelling tableaux of life within the citadel. All of humankind could be found here, apart from the police. Their visits were few. Beyond the criminals, drug addicts and prostitutes, a micro-society operated with its own shops, doctors, factories and schools. And all under a pall of Dickensian darkness. As the book’s blurb puts it: ‘Through a continual process of demolition and rebuilding – with never an architect in sight – individual buildings gradually homogenised. Only at street level did the old grid of public alleyways still exist, but hemmed in and built over: dark, dirty and squalid.’ Yet somehow it all worked.
Though I’d say that entirely because it was organically grown, it worked – at least for its day-to-day functioning (earthquakes and fires might have been another matter).
The book is a record of Shanghai’s vanishing historic architecture […] From what I’ve seen so far, the images are imbued with a palpable melancholic beauty.