CURATED BY SHI HANTAO
There can be no doubt that Yan Yibo’s guerrilla photography of streets and parks belong to the canon of urban photography. This is particularly true of modern Shanghai, where he follows the photographic tradition begun by Zhang Cai and Jin Shisheng in the thirties and forties: capturing everyday moments with a camera. What is being created is not simply a record of daily life, but more a way of representing an essentially urban form of vitality.
Walter Benjamin quoted a passage from Baudelaire’s poem “The Sun“ from Flowers of Evil which goes, “I alone try my fanciful fencing, scenting in every corner the chance of a rhyme.“ Then there was the day when I pushed open the door to Yan Yibo’s apartment, and saw a bamboo sword leaning there. Ever since, his photos have brought this poem to mind. The poet imagined himself as an urban swordsman. However, when the Parisian arcades of the 19th century morphed into a Shanghai or a Tokyo of the 21st century, people could no longer escape the randomness of the countless strangers that surrounded them. What better than to use a handheld camera as one’s weapon?
As with Erwitt's New York or Brassaï’s Paris, even lonely and absurd scenes are embued with warmth and humor. Yan Yibo's "undercurrent", the darkness he teases out from the shadows, is forcefully depressive. His subjects are inexplicably embedded in their gloomy backgrounds. These messy scenes are captured in the click of a shutter, revealing only an outline, details and truth disguised. Yet the blurred field of each photo resonates with power, as if a sci-fi monster might appear at any moment.