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A snap event for a one-time 'inferior corner'

IT used to be the "inferior corner," a place that was home to low-income people. But now Caojiadu is a very different area. So overseas photographers are engaged in a project to capture the spirit of the area. Wang Jie goes close up.

Caojiadu, on the southeastern side of Suzhou Creek, used to be called xiazhijiao (literally "inferior corner") and was far from the city center with shabby houses and a messy environment, and usually home to low-income people.

But today it is far from inferior and has become a chic and modern community.

The program "Caojiadu, In My Eyes" has invited 10 foreign photographers to capture what they see or focus on in the new Caojiadu.

"I heard about the story of Caojiadu, and the speed of the development of the area and the city is really stunning," says David James Clark, a veteran English photographer who started a Sino-English photography class with the University of Bolton in Dalian, Liaoning Province, in 2006. "Every time I came to Shanghai, I was in a hurry. I hope that I can stay longer next time and obviously Caojiadu would be a comfortable place to live."

According to history, there used to be a clan named Cao who escaped to Shanghai in the late Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). They lived near the Wusong River and built a ferry which was called "Caojiadu."

In 1892, some businessmen bought land to build factories there and many workers moved to the district. So the market was created because of its convenient waterfront. Gradually more working people or locals running small businesses came to the area. Although the place was filled with the vitality of everyday life, it was definitely not an area for the upper class to consider living in.

But now Caojiadu is different.

Many prominent white-collar workers, academics and celebrities choose to live in Caojiadu including the Olympic hurdling champion Liu Xiang and his coach.

A forest of new highrises including the future Plaza 889, said to be the first free form shopping mall, the Huxi Cinema built in 1926 and M50 (50 Moganshan Road) - the Shanghai version of SoHo - all deliver a dynamic and lively approach to the one-time xiazhijiao.

The modern scenes amaze the photographers.

"Back in London, we have a saying - 'if you are bored with London, then you are bored with life'," says Boris Austin from Britain. "I believe there are similar cities in China, and Shanghai would undoubtedly be my first choice."

Austin's words are echoed by Jackson Lowen, also from the UK. "There are many highrises here, but it is never a cold world. I can experience a kind of passion for the city."

The excitement and surprises encountered by the foreign photographers are exactly what the event organizer was hoping to see.

"Originally we planned to invite some Chinese photographers to capture the ups and downs of Caojiadu, as the place is a mirror reflecting the fantastic development of Shanghai," says July Chen, one of the organizing staff.

But then the upcoming World Expo 2010 Shanghai inspired Chen and her team.

"We thought that local photographers might be too familiar with some of the scenes which appear unique to the eyes of foreigners," Chen explains. "Because of the Shanghai Expo, we really want to show the outside world from the viewpoint of a newcomer."

Apart from the city landscapes, the foreign photographers are fascinated by local lives.

Migrant workers riding bicycles, a boy practicing the violin on the street or a peddler selling snack food, all send warm and friendly messages to the photographers.

While memories of old Caojiadu still linger in the minds of some of the old locals, in the eyes of the foreign photographers, this place is a picture gallery of the city of the future.


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