Tim Franco is French-Polish freelance photographer based in Shanghai. Since he first came to China in 2005, Tim Franco got fascinated by the fast social and urban transformation that chinese cities where going through. He has spent some time documenting those growth through urban photography but also by studying social changes, such at the underground art world and the social problems related to the evolutions of the cities. Among his projects is a comprehensive depiction of the growth of the alternative music scene in China and particularly Shanghai. The project was synthesized and published in a book, “Shanghai Soundbites”, released in June 2008 in response to the attitude towards cultural expression manifested in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics. Subsequently, the pictures have been included in numerous news and lifestyle publications both in China and abroad.
He now continues his work documenting the urban development of chinese cities and its social impact on the local people. He is also involved in local youth and underground movement both in China and greater asia. Tim Franco is a regular contributor to Le Monde ( newspaper and magazine ), but his work has also been published in the New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Bloomberg, Financial Times, Le Point, NRC, Wiwo, Global Journal, Architecture d’Aujourd’hui, The Fader, CNN online, Time Out, Urban.
About the series Vertical Communism
Vertical Communism is a long term project about the city of Chongqing. This city, one of the biggest in central china, went through one of the fastest development process in the country. The main reason is, located upstream of the three gorges dam, the government has welcomed all displaced population from submerged region into its main urban areas. The city is fascinating because of its accelerated development that produced high rises buildings on the side of rivers and mountains, taking away the traditional charms of the old Chang Kai Shek capital, but also because of its political and social history. Once at the hand of the biggest organized crime group in China, the city has been re manipulated into a neo communist style red propaganda machine, led by the highly controversial son of a famous revolutionary named Bo Xilai. With his wife now in prison for the murder of a British national, and his personal implication in corruptions and tortures, Bo Xilai has been quickly removed from any government places in China and the city is looking once again for a new direction.
I personally see Chongqing as a macro representation of the whole China. With its tumultuous political history and its growing social pressure for managing farmers coming into urban areas for a better life, all of it pushed by a constant need of investments and fast modernization, I wanted to portray this view of a growing china, far away from the common views of eastern cities such as shanghai or Beijing. From a photographic point of view, I have decided to shoot the people in their environment. But i have decided to take a step back, using medium format film camera, I want to transmit the feeling of scales that the city and china in general is facing. Urban Scales, Social Scales, the country's biggest problem is now to find a way to link some extremes the highly rich to the very poor, the extravagant to the meaningful. Vertical Communism is a portrait of Chinese a megapolis full of contradiction, trying to keep up with its unpredictable modernization.
Interview with Tim Franco
All About Photo: When did you realize you wanted to be a photographer?
: There is not a precise moment. When I was young, I loved writing stories, then my passion became music. I always wanted to share my ideas and vision of things through some mediums at the end it became photography.
Where did you study photography?
When I was a kid, my artist mother pushed me from one opening to the other, through museums and galleries. At first I hated it, and then became used to it and started to hang out more and more in her studio, until I took away her old cameras , I have learn through experience, other photographers and reading tutorials.
How could you describe your style?
Photographers tend to be classified, put into boxes, commercial photographer, photojournalists, artists, etc. I never really know how to classify my work. What I love is telling stories, document facts with an artistic esthetic to it. I also enjoy working on creative commercial assignments. I always try to stay simple in the esthetic and subtle about the story.
What kind of gear do you use? Camera, lens, digital, film?
For my personal work, I really enjoy medium format. When I see something, most of the time, I ideally want to frame it in square. I don't really like naming brands, they all have different feeling and esthetic and it really depends the look you want to give your image. To name a few I personally work with Hasselblad and old rolleiflex. For commercial work, I use Canon because of their price and availability in terms of lenses.>
Do you spend a lot of time editing your images?
When shooting film, I usually spend very little time editing, just cleaning dust on films and other small details. When shooting commercial work on digital its another story. Clients are very specific about what they want and color out of raw files needs to go through extensive treatment. My photo agency works with a retouching studio for most of our commercial projects.
What advice would you give a young photographer?
Those days, its very easy to call yourself a photographer, grab a camera , a couple of nice prime lenses and you can get some good images. But I think young photographers should really focus on what are they trying to say with their images. What makes a great photo is not the instant esthetic of it but the impact that image will have on its viewer.
An idea, a sentence, a project you would like to share?
One of the main project I worked on for the past year is about one particular city in China called Chongqing. Since 2009, I am going there quite frequently, at the beginning for some press assignments since the city have seen lot of interesting political stories and turmoils but also because it fascinates me. Both from an esthetic point of view and from its stories. This giant megapolis has been forcly populated with countryside people and has now a very hard time to deal its urbanization.
"I personally see Chongqing as a macro representation of the whole China. With its tumultuous political history and its growing social pressure for managing farmers coming into urban areas for a better life, all of it pushed by a constant need of investments and fast modernization, I wanted to portray this view of a growing china, far away from the common views of eastern cities such as shanghai or beijing. From a photographic point of view, I have decided to shoot the people in their environment. But I have decided to take a step back, using medium format film camera, I want to transmit the feeling of scales that the city and china in general is facing. Urban Scales, Social Scales, the country's biggest problem is now to find a way to link some extremes the highly rich to the very poor, the extravagant to the meaningful. Vertical Communism is a portrait of chinese a megapolis full of contradiction, trying to keep up with its unpredictable modernization."
Your best and worst memory as a photographer?
Being a professional photographers gives you a chance to go to many great places and meet amazing people. Sometimes the best memory is all the instants that led you to take a particular photo, the untold stories. What happened in the discussion you had with the person you were about to portray, how did you get to this fantastic point of view etc. For worst memory there is always issues of dealing with authorities, this large gap of misunderstanding between the photographer wanting to tell a story and a person not allowing you to shoot. This is always very annoying.
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