Honorable Family Door
I know it's been a while since I've posted the "Focus On" feature, but I've been spread a little thin lately and I had to lighten my load a bit. I plan on continuing the feature, but it may not be as regular as it was; "Wandering Eye" is a bit less labor intensive, so you may see it more frequently.
Thus far, my submissions to "Focus On" have focused pretty much on members from North America and Europe...not that there's anything wrong with that, but this time I had my eye set on the East. So when I came across a member from Shanghai I was really jazzed. The thing is, this particular Shanghai-ite is a transplanted American from Mississippi. Ah, what's a guy to do?
I'd like to take this opportunity to introduce you to Georgia Sparling, the owner/operator of Paripassu.
Steve: The first thing that I usually want to know about a photographer whose work I admire is, “Where is this person coming from?” So
, my first question to you is really a statement built around a set of questions. Tell us a bit about yourself; what were your "formative years" like? Where are you from? What was it like growing up? What's your family like? What are some of the things that made Georgia, Georgia ? Georgia
My mom was always very indulgent of my various interests and since I was home a lot after school I just kept adding onto them--reading (she read to me from the moment I was born, maybe earlier), stained glass (someone at our church taught me), sewing (influenced by my grandmother), cooking (my mom loves to bake), saxophone and violin (band is what you do in a small town if you're not playing sports or a cheerleader). As a teenager I dipped into photography a bit and in college I studied some fashion design and wood cutting/engraving. So I think creativity was my way to explore my right brain and to keep myself from getting bored since small towns are not known for their excitement and I didn't always fit in super well with my classmates.
I think what makes me me is all wrapped up in my faith, my uncontrollable desire to create, and restlessness that keeps me from being satisfied with just sitting. Since moving to
, I think all of those things have become stronger in me and I've very much become an explorer of the city and culture. Shanghai
S: "Interesting"; now there's a word that, more often than not, gives me pause. Growing up in a small town in the
Deep South as a biracial child with your "yankee" mother; yes, I'm sure that was "interesting". My impression from your writing, for whatever it's worth, is that your childhood was an annealing process that strengthened you. And all of your interests; my word! You were quite the renaissance girl, weren't you? You're obviously still into photography, but do you still pursue any of the other interests you mentioned? Which of them was (is?) your favorite?
G: Hmm. I still pursue most all of them when possible. I don't have a sewing machine in
, but I do some light designing and I have a tailor (it's way less expensive than it sounds) make clothes for me. I dabble in wood engraving. My main hobbies while I'm here are writing, photography, and baking. All of which I do freelance work in. I think baking and photography are my favorites at the moment but I also tend to need variety. I imagine when I go home this summer I'll be doing a lot of sewing projects and some wood engraving. China
S: Freelance writing, photography and baking...now there's a combination. What sort of freelance assignments do you take in those areas and where do they come from?
G: I do most of my freelance writing for English language publications in
and they range from stories about whiteboards in expat schools to profiles on nonprofits. For photography, I've done several engagement shoots around China . It's such a beautiful city with a mixture of old, new, gaudy, and elegant. I also cater for a glass and ceramics gallery here that several of my friends work for. That's probably my favorite assignment because you need a crowd to justify making all that food! Shanghai
Condemned Chinese House
S: I'm impressed by the range of occupational skills you utilize to generate income. Are these "collateral" occupations, or "sidelines" to your primary occupation, and if so, what is your "day job"? What was it that brought you to
in general, and Shanghai in particular? China
G: These are sideline jobs. My day job is writing and editing for a social enterprise that promotes and consults in philanthropy in
. When I first came to China , I studied Chinese for two years, then worked in fashion, freelance writing, helping out with a church youth group, and finally my current company which is a small team of Chinese & Americans. I came to China originally because I already knew some people there. Shanghai
S: Let's talk about photography for a bit; how did you get your start? What was it that first attracted you to the medium and what sorts of things would you shoot?
Old Wall in Shanghai
G: I first picked up the hobby around junior high. My uncle was getting into it then and gave me some pointers. I dropped it for a while though and just picked it up in the past year and a half. Originally I took pictures of old things (barns, houses) and nature, but I wasn't super focused. I've always liked dilapidated buildings, trees, and lots of contrast. I suppose not much has changed there.
S: Do you ever get the itch to just go out and "shoot"? Where do you go when this happens? Do have a preconceived notion of what you're going to shoot, or does it depend more on happenstance? What is most likely to find its way into your viewfinder?
G: Oh definitely...quite often while I'm sitting at my desk. Biking and photo taking go hand in hand with me here in
since I can get to certain locations much quicker that way (and hence not lose light or time). The other day someone called me a street photographer, which I had never considered but I think in China it's the natural thing to do. So when I go out to take pictures I tend to just go and take pictures of anything that's interesting. I'm not sure if I mentioned this before, but people often don't like a foreigner taking a picture (especially when I've got my DSLR out), so it takes some sly shooting to get good pictures of people. I try not to be pushy because I know they get defensive (I'm constantly asked what I'm going to use the pictures for, i.e. are you a journalist). Often I end up taking pictures of things I know I won't see anywhere else--old housing developments that are being torn down to put up new 30 floor apartment buildings, people selling street food, close-ups of textures like people selling fabric at an outdoor market. I'm actually moving back to Shanghai America in a few weeks and I feel like I'm going to be in a photography wasteland because is just so rich in images. Shanghai
S: Let's talk for a moment about your equipment; what's in your "bag of tricks"? What's your "go to" set up?
G: So far my bag of tricks has been kind of limited. I usually just bring one or two (sometimes three) cameras when I go out--which gets heavy fast. Since neither of my old cameras have a light meter, I usually need to bring my Nikon to help me gauge. I rarely bring my tripod because it's usually too much to carry and draws too much attention. I just bought an ND fader filter, which I'm excited to try out...so thus far I've been a minimalist!
S: Do you have any favorite photographers, or photographers whose work you follow? Are there any who have influenced you, inspired you or that you try to emulate?
G: I don't have any favorite photographers. When I see photography I think I sort of absorb the styles I like. I would really like to study photography more and learn about the masters and how they shaped current photography, but for now I've been relying on the knowledge of a friend of mine in
who is better versed in photography. Shanghai
S: What does the future hold? Where will you be taking photography, or where will it be taking you?
G: I'm moving back to the
in a few days (yikes!) and so I'm not exactly sure where my photography will take me. I'm a little worried US America will seem dull after having as a muse. I'm looking forward to spending time editing the thousands of photos I've taken recently and adding some to Etsy (I've got postcards and notebooks coming soon). I'll have to do some exploring and see what I come up with. Shanghai
Traditional Chinese Sign and Dumplings