More P.J.s!

Thursday, May 22, 2008



Just a few days after my post on pyjamas as outdoor wear, I got an
e-mail from the photographer Justin Guariglia announcing a book signing at ICP this coming Friday for his new book “Planet Shanghai”. The book, which is essentially about the look and style of Shanghai, features dozens and dozens of pictures of people wearing pyjamas outdoors, as well as close-ups of Chinese footwear, Shanghai shoppers, and futuristic looking motorcycle riders.

Taken mostly in 2005, the rapid development in Shanghai is already changing how the city looks and feels and so the book is as much about a moment in time as current Shanghai style, but the images are nonetheless mesmerizing.

The prevalence of pyjamas, Guariglia explained to me, was due to both the extreme summer heat and the lack of plumbing. The area where most of the pictures were taken was one where many people had to use outdoor communal toilets and thus the boundaries of what was considered home expanded past people’s houses to the public bathrooms. Once that relaxation of the dress code became acceptable (starting around the 1980s) the perimeter for p.j.-wear just kept expanding until many people were wearing them day in day out.

In addition to the inherent quality of Guaraglia’s pictures, one of the things many readers of this blog will notice is their similarity to The Sartorialist’s photographs. What is equally interesting is the ways in which they differ. While superficially almost identical, the two photographers are worlds apart in spirit and intent. Guariglia depicts, Sart endorses. Guariglia is a journalist, Sart is an editor. In John Szarkowki’s parlance Guariglia is a window, Sart is a mirror.

What never ceases to be a source of wonder is how a mechanical instrument like the camera can produce images that in the hands of different photographers are so distinctly and personally expressive. It’s a miracle! And it’s why people like me have been involved and committed to photography for such a long time.













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