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September 27, 2009

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Shutterbug beats the aging process

THE aging process makes a woman uneasy about her appearance and how she handles it reveals much about her character.

Not content with wasting her twilight years, He Zhaoya decided to pick up her camera and capture "Shanghai Women" with her lens.

In 1988, she held her first photo exhibition but in ensuing decades, she disappeared from the scene, choosing to look after her son. But family life and a fear of growing old gradually had a bigger impact than she expected.

Fortunately, the camera saved her again so it was in 1997 that He started her "The Women of Shanghai" project.

However, to find subjects for her study she had to rely on friends to develop a "little hub" at her small apartment in the former French Concession area.

Women of different ages, with different background and vastly different moods all agreed eventually to model for her. The result was a book featuring black-and-white photos of approximately 60 women.

Perhaps she is too obsessed with the bygone era of the 1930s Shanghai, as the ladies she has photographed are reminiscent of those in Eileen Chang's novels.

"The Women of Shanghai" is a joint work with writer Cheng Nanshan, who penned the words accompanying the pictures.

Unlike "The Women of Shanghai" that focuses on ordinary people, He has published a new work called "Shanghai Ladies" that features 30 celebrated women, including renowned artists, scientists, entrepreneurs, a police woman and movie star.

And while she handpicked the subjects photographed for "The Women of Shanghai," the women featuring in for the new series came from a list provided by Shanghai Women's Association.

Apart from photography, He has devoted much of her spare time to making various necklaces with stones and man-made crystals. She says it is another of her attempts to conquer the fear of aging.

Q: Is it more difficult to photograph a celebrated woman than an ordinary woman?

A: Yes, because most of them are subjective and I need to guide them cautiously and naturally in front of my camera.

Q: Did you know them before?

A: Personally I didn't, so I did a lot of homework before starting, including checking their information on the Internet.

Q: Among the 30 celebrated women, who impressed you the most?

A: There are several people, like Lan Huai'en, the psychologist and investigator of male culture. We communicated happily during the whole process, and I was especially moved to learn that she was a really smart and sensitive woman.

Q: Why did you shoot an album of celebrated women instead of continuing your previous theme that focused on ordinary women in Shanghai?

A: This is the investor's requirement.

Q: Did you introduce something new in "Shanghai Ladies?"

A: Yes. Different from "The Women of Shanghai," I used many landmark buildings in the city as backdrop in my photos, ranging from Shanghai Exhibition Center, the Bund to Xintiandi and Waibaidu Bridge.

Q: You have done lots of knitting in your spare time, but now you seem to be more interested in making necklaces?

A: I am happy that you noticed this. Whether knitting or making necklaces, both are a release for me from the fear and worry hidden deep in my heart. I tell you that most women are born with fear and crisis. But I am happy that some fashion designers are amazed at my creative necklaces.

Q: What's your plan for the next book series?

A: I have a new subject planned about "women and their homes." I wanted to capture the natural and relaxed condition of women at home. I have already taken a bunch of photos, but need an investor who can continue the project and turn the pictures into a beautiful album.

Q: Now are you afraid of aging?

A: If I said no, then I would be lying. I still struggle to find permanent harmony in my life and it's a long battle.


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