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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 15, No. 3, 2016
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Robert J. Lewis
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the paradise of lost memories

presented by


Before introducing our featured artist, photographer Tim Gao, I want to mention two recent publications. I don't often talk about art books or books about art, but in this case the volumes in question merit discussion. Arts Integration in Education: Teachers and Teaching Artists as Agents of Change is edited by Gail Humphries & Yvonne Pelletier Lewis. Despite its rather cumbersome title it should be on every teacher's reading list and its teaching methods should be implemented into school curricula everywhere because the methods in the book encourage imagination and out-of-the-box thinking. Having said all that I'm also very certain that my wish is a pipe dream for all but the most progressive school systems, since most schools require the student to fit the system rather than teaching to fit the student -- but hope springs eternal.

The second publication I'd like my readers to check out is Getting Your Sh*t Together: The Ultimate Business Manual for Every Practicing Artist by Karen Atkinson. Again, a rather long title but it really does cover just about every topic of interest to working artists' exhibitions, promotion and legal, to opportunities and health and safety; it's 426 pages of information.

Photos and photography are ubiquitous today, from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram and Linkedin, to mention but the most prominent. We see selfies, meals, cute kitties and random shots of ‘everything’ around us. Life seems to be lived by sharing images with the world documenting everything from the mundane to serious crimes, and it's all available with a touch of the screen. Despite the over abundance of images we never tire of the visual. Most of us are not really serious photographers but there are those who create cohesive essays with a more serious intention and a different point of view. Tim Gao's photos are the opposite of selfies or posed.


I was born in 1986, my name is Tim Gao and I am a freelance portrait photographer based in Shanghai, China. I have lived in Shanghai for over nine years and I explore Shanghai, where urban city and residential lanes are hidden and unknown to me and impact my emotional attachment to the city.

I grew up in a small village called Xilai, in northern Jiangsu Province. The folks were good and the village was surrounded almost entirely by open fields and countryside -- far away from big noisy city. As children we explored the countryside and played games after school or during holidays. I will never forget the happy times I spent there with my parents and playmates. I miss the precious fragments of past memories and sometimes I have a feeling that what draws me to taking photographs is nostalgia for an idyllic past. I try to record the ephemeral and reconstruct it into a new and multi-layered world – the paradise of my lost memories.

When I was browsing around the college library one sunny afternoon, I was deeply moved and surprised by a photography book of Henri Cartier-Bresson. I still remember a comprehensive photographic collection of his works, including images of Shanghai in the late 1940s, in a straight and yet humorous way. That was around 2009 and one year later I became obsessed by taking street photographs.

It was 2012 when I started thinking of making a serious photography project. Since then I have been persistently shooting Shanghai streets. I consider these photographs as a form of private diary rather than as an art pursuit. I walk the streets and take snapshots around me in a quiet relaxed manner and I feel elated.

Street photography is not just a sharp triggering of shutter to shape the outside world in the form of light and shadow. It is simultaneously a curious observation and emotional perception of what’s happening in ordinary streets at any moment when unpredictable dramas and realities are actually taking place.

I find it a magical experience of street photography that when clicking the shutter, not only the present, but also the past of the street -- where the imprints and smells of daily life remain -- is frozen in time. Street photography not only enables me to create a documentary view of the unique Shanghai street and the culture behind it, but also reveals the extraordinary and metaphorical aspect of Shanghai – a mixture of mystery, nostalgia and unease.

You can find Tim’s photographs of Shanghai street project on his website or drop him a line if you are interested in his work at





Photos©Tim Gao


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