Pedals and Poodles in the French Concession

Bicycles were introduced to China by Shanghai’s original expat community in the late 19th century. Many of whom, and not just the French, lived in the French Concession.

The French Concession is made for cycling.

Its gently curving boulevards are shaded by a panoply of plane trees that keep the streets considerably cooler than other parts of town.

True, the traffic is still the typical chaotic Shanghai mix of bicycle rickshaws, motorized rickshaws, hand carts, scooters, ebikes, motorbikes, cars, vans, trucks, buses and super capacitor buses.

But the French Concession’s quiet alleys and laneways yield unexpected retail treasures and culinary delights, nestled among secluded courtyards and gardens.

You’ll still find lots of expats riding bikes in the French Concession.

You’ll also find lots of Chinese riding bikes.

But by and large the Chinese riders will either be western educated, or from the poorer end of society.

Unlike the expats who associate riding bikes with fun, fitness and environmental awareness; the Chinese associate them with poverty and the bad old days.

When if you owned a bike, you were lucky and if didn’t--you were walking.

There’s a great Shanghai cycling website  it’s so popular that in 2011 they launched a magazine called 48 x 15.

Tellingly both are exclusively available in English.

Because bikes just don’t have the same cool factor, for upwardly mobile Chinese, as they do for expats.

Little wonder when for the fanatically upwardly mobile, a VW that’s made in China doesn’t have the same cachet as a VW import.

And of course a BMW or Lexus is infinitely preferable.

So a bike doesn’t stand a chance.

What scores upwardly mobile Shanghainese their cool points are dogs.

So in addition to bikes, the streets of the French Concession are swarming with cute little pooches.

Immaculately groomed Shih Tzus, Poodles, Puggles and Labradoodles predominate, but even the odd Bulldog may be spotted on occasion.

And eighty or ninety percent will be walked by Chinese as opposed to expats,

There’s a  proverb that says the Southern Chinese will eat anything on four legs, except a table.

With good reason, because there was a time when they needed to in order to survive.

Before a hundred years of economic growth exploded over a single generation, dogs were a handy source of food.

And of course in many parts of China they still are.

So for upwardly mobile Shanghainese living in the French Concession owning a dog confers status.

Because nothing says you’ve made it like not needing to eat one.

Cool it seems is elusive in any language.

The Hidden Cost of Stock Photography

I just got back from 3 weeks in Shanghai where I had a few beers with my old mate Danny. He’s ECD of global brands for a big multi-national agency.

It’s the opposite end of the industry to my freelance gigs.

In spite of this, our business philosophies and the work we appreciate, share more similarities than differences.

We hadn’t met for 4 years so the conversation was freeform and wide-ranging.

Until it turned to how the rise of stock photography has made things tough for photographers.

Which led to some other interesting thoughts on the subject and here’s the gist of them.

Before the Internet, stock photography was a drawn-out process.

You’d give your specs to someone at a stock-house and they would manually search and cross-index tens of thousands of images.

Days, or sometimes even weeks later if the image was somewhat obscure, an envelope would arrive with a print and a negative.

God help you if you lost the negative.

You were looking at a hefty surcharge of many times the image rights.

Now of course there’s no waiting.

You download your image with a couple of clicks.

It’s fast and inexpensive - but there’s a hidden cost.

You have to find the image first.

Shutterstock is the stock site I use most.

The first time I used it, it had around 6 million images.

Today it has over 19 million.

Simple math suggests it takes three times longer to find what you’re looking for now, than it did then.

So now the process is drawn-out in a different way.

Now the consumer does the work.

So the real cost of the convenience is hidden in a huge transference of labour.

Because anyone who’s spent any time searching for stock photography will tell you it’s extremely time consuming.

Especially if you’re trying to use stock photography originally, which means using it in a way where it doesn’t look like stock.

Because then, you can’t simply look at categories you need to think across them.

And often it’s hard to believe how long it takes to find a shot.

Let alone bill clients the actual hours involved, whether you’re a freelancer or a multi-national.

Of course stock houses are aware of this and continually trying to improve the user’s search experience.

But they need to get a move on.

The point when it becomes more cost effective to shoot an image is hard to call.

A lot depends on what you’re shooting.

But every image that’s added to the database brings the tipping point closer.

And if it does tip, I imagine there will be a lot more happy art directors.

Not to mention photographers.