Sunday, 18 April 2021

The Quick-Fix Photo Tour of Shapowei

I have a passion for quick-fixes and have been taking photos of them for the last five years. It seemed like it was about time to share a bit of the fun with other people and how better to do that than in the form of a tour! This is, therefore, a new tour and a slightly different format to my previous ones: it is a photo workshop as much as it was a guided tour. Still, I must admit: I am back on the street and giving a tour once more. It feels good to be back!

The tour is the opposite of most Xiamen tours in the sense that, instead of stopping at one scenic site after another and working our way through the checklist, we seem to stop at things like this: a plastic bag tied around wires on the forgotten side of a building. There is, however, just as much to say about this sort of place as there is about the statue of some leader or an exquisite beach, this assemblage of plastic is raw creativity.

The sort of tours I like are open to unexpected things happening and this one was no exception. As I was waiting to begin the tour I got talking to an Italian student who is studying at the university. I ended up convincing him to come along on the tour and he made a useful contribution to the discussion. What's more, when I set the participants the challenge finding and taking a picture of a quick-fix themselves, he took me to his single-room apartment as it is a nest of quick-fixes. It is also in a fashionable part of the city and costs just 800 rmb a month, that's about £80, so it's no wonder it is like this.

This is the sort of picture the participants came up with themselves. What I like about these pictures, when they are at their best, is that they reveal a story. You can see how someone went about filling in the space and how they worked it out as they went along. What's more, you start to see recurring problems when you record a number of these quick-fixes. With these recurring problems you see common solutions but so too do you notice innovative ones, some of which are exemplary while others could be classed as bodges. Recording the whole range is worthwhile. 

We finished the tour in a community space where we looked at the photos and I gave some advice on how to improve them, both when taking them and through editing. This was, finally a photography workshop in the shape of a tour. It felt good to invite the participants to be active in the tour by first taking pictures then later spotting their own quick-fixes. What I learnt from giving the tour is that taking a good image is not only a technical task it is also deeply connected to thinking visually. It is necessary to have a clear idea of what you are looking at and where the focus of it is, in order to capture the phenomenon with clarity. This has lead me to realize that this tour could be useful to anyone who has to use images when presenting research as it helps to bring the idea of the image and the reality of it, into greater congruence. Learning in action.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

Quick-Fix Tour of Shapowei: A New Tour

After a bit of a pause, I am back into making tours. Tomorrow I will give a tour of the Shapowei neighborhood looking at the phenomenon of quick-fixes or improvised repairs. The tour will not only investigate them and look at the stories they can tell, it will also be about how to take pictures of them. I'll share some of my five year's experience of photographing them and help the people on the tour to make their own quick-fix photos. 

As this is a new tour and it will be experimenting with the form it will be done on a free/pay what you like basis. 

Start point: front gate of Shapowei Art Zone, Xiamen. 

Time: 14.00-17.00

Date: 5th April.

Reserve via WeChat: billaitchison

For a taste of what quick-fixes look like you can take a look at the China Quick-Fix photo-blog. 

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Shanghai Tour To Return Next Month

Back in 2016 I made a Tour of All Tours in Xintiandi, Shanghai. It was a pretty good show, I believe, and I made it for a festival with the intention that a broad public could get to see it. After 11 of the scheduled 13 shows I was informed the authorities were stopping it because it, "was not positive enough about Shanghai." It was objective, it did not try to sell the city but neither did it lay into the place and rubbish the city. I guess it just feel foul of an over zealous censor. 

I don't believe in rewarding censorship with silence as that will only encourage them to do it more. My solution then was to give the last two tours privately and to make them about the censorship itself. In this way the censor actually breathed some new life into the show, though not that which was probably intended. 

Three years later I have a request to run it again so will be back on the beat looking at how to thread the two shows, the original and the "uncensored" version together and to give it all a contemporary reading. If you happen to be in Shanghai around the middle of the month and are interested in joining the tour get in touch and it can be arranged.

Saturday, 2 March 2019

The Confessions of a Celebrity Stalker Tour

Some tours are pure industry products: profitable, predictable and more or less pointless. They only become interesting when they start to go wrong and off script. Other tours, however, are a world away from the tourist industry and their existence is far from inevitable. This quasi celebrity stalker tour was clearly one of the latter. Given its slightly deviant nature, which I have chosen to focus upon, I have anonymised both the guide and the celebrity who he focuses upon in the tour. We'll call our guide Steven and the subject of the tour Morrissey.

Steven gives guided tours and told me he is working on a new one: Morrissey in Birmingham. As Brum is not the cantankerous Mancunian's typical stomping ground I was wondering whether he could pull this one off, given the tenuous connection. I needn't have worried, if you are used to being creative about giving tours you could give a tour of the neighborhood's public toilet and it would still be better than the tedious local history tour of the church. We began informally: at his front door. 

We made a number of stops along his road; a building with an interesting window; a wall upon which small objects are habitually left; a junction with an unusually far view. We arrived at the first Morrissey stop. This house, or one of the neighboring houses, is where a former partner of Morrissey once stayed for several months. That was before they were together so it is most unlikely that Morrissey himself ever visited this road but the vaguest scent of Morrissey is attached to the building all the same. I think that the slightness of this connection made the tour all the quirkier for it was really trying hard to find someone where they were not.

These abandoned suitcases seemed like a gift to the tour: objects just itching to be dragged into the web of stories and observations about the neighborhood. It turned out Steven only had four Morrissey themed stops on the tour so these other signs were taken up eagerly. They were not deliberately spun into Smiths stories however, they were allowed to just be whatever they were. To have done so would have tuned this into a display of storytelling and ingenuity rather than to have retained the stalker feel that it was slowly accumulating.

This was an interesting stop because he confessed to having met Morrissey's niece here. She has become an acquaintance of his and through her he got to finally meet the man himself, albeit fleetingly as he departed from her birthday party. This sort of connection is purely about Morrissey the private individual and not about his music. It is here that I started to see the transgressive potential of this tour. This is not a tour about the music such as those that run regularly in Manchester, this is one that invites you into the invasive and obsessive point of view of the stalker.  

What made the tour bearable was his self-consciousness that this really was not upright material fit for a regular tour and the fact that he was playing at it much more than actually living the life of the celebrity stalker. Tours that genuinely slipped over the edge and became an invitation into a criminal or certifiable person's mental geography would be a difficult sell. The film Man Bites Dog, however, does precisely this through following a charismatic and funny serial killer and Gogol's Dead Souls does something similar, both the two of these twisting the knife in half way through, becoming darker and testing the viewer/reader. Thinking this through further then, this would be an original way to go about a Jack the Ripper Tour. Yes it would inevitably be slammed as sensationalist and unethical unless you found a very clever way to both do it and to not do it at the same time. This tour did not try to do anything of the sort and was instead wrapped up in a set of observations, local insights and invitations to observe closely. As a tour that was by far the safer choice, for a performance, this does incline me to stray into the more transgressive space, albeit with a very solid alibi.