Time-tested love

More than 1,000 cou­ples who took their wed­ding photographs in a stu­dio more than 25 years ago, have been in­vited to re­live their ex­pe­ri­ence. Wu Ni re­ports in Shang­hai.

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at wuni@chi­nadaily.com.cn.

More than 1,000 cou­ples who took their wed­ding photographs in a Shang­hai stu­dio more than 25 years ago are in­vited to re­live their ex­pe­ri­ence.

Shang­hai does not lack fancy photo stu­dios com­pet­ing for young cus­tomers with avant-garde fash­ion styles.

In Oc­to­ber, a time-hon­ored and per­haps the city’s last Sta­te­owned photo stu­dio at­tempted to give their old cus­tomers a chance to re­live their life’s pre­cious mo­ment.

Cou­ples who are able to show wed­ding pho­tos they took more than 25 years ago at the stu­dio can en­joy a wed­ding shoot for free at the 70-year-old Peo­ple’s Photo Stu­dio.

Since the in­vi­ta­tion was is­sued, el­derly cou­ples have been crowd­ing the stu­dio.

Du Wei­hong’s hands were shiv­er­ing as he tried to re­move his black-and-white wed­ding pho­tos from three brown pa­per bags, marked with the stu­dio’s logo. The pho­tos, as well as the bags, were so well kept even though 30 years had passed.

“I will never for­get the ex­pe­ri­ence,” says the 58-year-old.

“It was the first time we took pho­tos in a photo stu­dio and it was our wed­ding shoot! I was very ner­vous and sweated a lot. I just could not strike the right pose be­fore the cam­era. The pho­tog­ra­pher, a tall man, was pa­tient and spent a long time ad­just­ing my pose,” he re­calls.

Du paid 20 yuan ($3.28), half of his monthly salary as a worker in the trans­port in­dus­try, for a set of three pho­tos — two of the cou­ple and one of the bride.

“It was a lux­ury to take pho­tos in the Peo­ple’s Photo Stu­dio at that time. For com­mon­ers like us, tak­ing wed­ding pho­tos is the only time we splurge our money,” he says.

Zhang Jian­jun, vice-gen­eral man­ager of the stu­dio, has been work­ing at the com­pany for more than 40 years and was proud to talk about its past glory.

The stu­dio, ini­tially named Qiaoqi Photo Stu­dio, was set up by a Rus­sian mer­chant in 1940 and was sold to one of the stu­dio’s Chi­nese em­ploy­ees when the mer­chant re­turned to his home coun­try in 1949.

It was fa­mous for its Euro­peanstyle dec­o­ra­tion, the skilled pho­tog­ra­phers and the tech­niques of dye­ing the black-and-white pho­tos into col­or­ful ones that look like oil paint­ings. The city’s elites and celebri­ties were among its guests. Among them were the Rong’s fam­ily, an in­flu­en­tial fi­nan­cial and in­dus­trial em­pire in China whose busi­ness ranged from cot­ton yarn to fi­nance.

In the 1950s, China’s in­di­vid­ual pri­vate busi­nesses were sold to the State or con­verted into joint pub­lic-pri­vate com­pa­nies based on the prin­ci­ple of es­tab­lish­ing a planned econ­omy. The photo stu­dio be­came State-owned and was re­named as Peo­ple’s Photo Stu­dio on Oct 1, 1959, the 10th an­niver­sary of the found­ing of Peo­ple’s Repub­lic of China.

“There were many photo stu­dios in Shang­hai but the Peo­ple’s Photo Stu­dio was the most ex­pen­sive one be­cause we had some renowned pho­tog­ra­phers and we were fa­mous for Shang­hai-fla­vor photography,” Zhang says.

How­ever, as pri­vate photo stu­dios from Tai­wan sprung up in the city in the 1990s and dig­i­tal cam­eras were mas­tered by many, the Peo­ple’s Photo Stu­dio grad­u­ally lost its pop­u­lar­ity. In 2010, it had to move out from its long­time lo­ca­tion on Huai­hai Road, the down­town com­mer­cial street boast­ing grand shop­ping malls and lux­u­ri­ous brands.

The new lo­ca­tion was down a lane in a res­i­den­tial com­mu­nity on Julu Road. Old res­i­dents basked un­der sun­shine, with col­or­ful laun­dry dry­ing over­head on bam­boo poles. There were no more big posters or shop win­dows, only a small sign­board hung at the en­trance of the al­ley.

“Many of our old cus­tomers did not know the stu­dio moved and thought it shut down for good,” Zhang says.

He re­veals that the idea to pro­vide free shoots for its old cus­tomers was in­spired by a call last year.

“An old woman speak­ing in Shang­hai di­alect called and asked whether it was the Peo­ple’s Photo Stu­dio. She asked ev­ery de­tail in­clud­ing the for­mer name and ad­dress of the stu­dio and fi­nally be­lieved it was the same one she took pho­tos in decades ago,” he re­calls.

The woman was a 90-year-old Shang­hai na­tive who now lives in the United States, Zhang says. Her fam­ily photo, sil­ver and golden wed­ding an­niver­sary pho­tos were all taken at the Peo­ple’s Photo Stu­dio. In 2012, she re­turned to Shang­hai and wished to take a fam­ily photo again at the stu­dio, only to find it was no longer on Huai­hai Road.

More than 1,000 old cou­ples have reg­is­tered for the free-shoot since the pro­mo­tion was made pub­lic.

Among the cou­ples was a pair want­ing to mark their golden wed­ding an­niver­sary.

“They wore Western suits and wed­ding gowns when they took the pho­tos 50 years ago. But dur­ing the ‘cul­tural rev­o­lu­tion’ (1966- 76), the dress was seen as a taboo rep­re­sent­ing bour­geois life­style. They had to de­stroy the pho­tos. Now they want to re­gain what they have lost,” he says.

For Gong Lian­hong and his wife, the op­por­tu­nity to re­take their wed­ding pho­tos was a sur­real fam­ily ex­pe­ri­ence. Their 28-year-old son was part of the photo shoot.

“We had planned to take pho­tos here again as this year is our 30th wed­ding an­niver­sary,” he says.

“We took our wed­ding photo in 1983. I re­mem­ber there was a bar­ber shop next to the photo stu­dio. My wife permed her hair be­fore we walked into the stu­dio. I was so happy that day, I had a very big smile while tak­ing the pho­tos, which made my eyes look small on the photo. So we came here again for a sec­ond shoot,” he re­calls.

His son is now plan­ning his wed­ding. Gong hopes his son will also take his wed­ding pho­tos at the stu­dio.

Zhang the vice-gen­eral man­ager hopes the pro­mo­tion will trig­ger more peo­ple to think about the mean­ing of mar­riage.

“China has seen tur­bu­lent days over the past decades. Most old cou­ples ex­pe­ri­enced hard lives but they over­came dif­fi­cul­ties to­gether. That’s why they trea­sure their mar­riage and have the chance to come back for the photo shoot.”


A cou­ple sur­named Luo takes their 30th wed­ding an­niver­sary shoot at the Peo­ple’s Photo Stu­dio.

Gong Lian­hong shows a pho­to­graphic plate of their wed­ding pho­tos which were taken at the stu­dio three decades ago.

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