During these times of social distancing, with the world suddenly changed and our normal routines and plans for 2020 all swept aside, there is a longing sense of unease and unexpectedness.
If you happen to be living and working abroad this feeling can be accentuated.
Living in China as a foreigner from a non-Asian country or from non-Asian background singles you out as an ‘other’. At once an immigrant and expatriate, depending on where you initially come from, it is a transient position to be in.
However, you don’t need to be foreign to have these feelings. Award-winning photographer Dave Tacon has managed to capture the alienation of feeling ‘foreign’ even if not actually a ‘foreigner’ in Chinese metropolis Shanghai.
His latest project An Alien in Shanghai captures how even Chinese people can feel othered in a city of twenty-odd million people.
The series is centred around Sun Feiyu, a Shanghai-based musician whose chosen English name is Alien. He dresses in an alien costume to go to Electronic Dance Music (EDM) parties but also does so in public, well just because.
“I’ve often felt like a creature from another planet living here in Shanghai,” says Australian Tacon. “As a foreigner, you’re always an outsider here.”
This photography series taken at the end of 2019, just before the world changed, conjures the deserted cityscapes and isolated figures depicted by Edward Hopper in his steely look at changing modern life in early twentieth-century America.
Tacon’s snaps reflect the mood of Hopper and perhaps mirror the current feeling amongst Shanghai residents as they come out of the covid-lockdown; there is the sense of loneliness and alienation in a world that has forever left the past behind.
Shot using a Pentax medium format camera with Fujifilm Pro 400H colour negative film, this series can be interpreted as a comment on Shanghai or China in general, and the fact that people don’t give a second look to someone walking around in crazy far out garbs.
The places captured are also a study in how people live in China, the notion of grabbing a can of beer outside a Family Mart convenience store in the former French Concession familiar to anyone who has lived in Shanghai, whether local or foreign.
This series of portraits set around Shanghai and staged as documentary images may have been taken before the great pandemic of 2020 but they mirror the new reality we are all experiencing. Then again, maybe the series is just about an alien finding his way in Shanghai.
“Maybe it’s just about a guy called Alien who likes to dress like an alien,” reflects Tacon.