Ever wondered how photography and movies shape our perceptions of history and truth, reality and make-believe? It’s something that is of great interest to American photographer, Mark Parascandola.
In his critically acclaimed photobook, Once Upon a Time in Almería: The Legacy of Hollywood in Spain (published by Daylight Books), he documented a bygone era of Hollywood glamour amid the geopolitics of the Cold War.
Now he’s back with a new book, Once Upon a Time in Shanghai, which in contrast looks towards the future. Here, Parascandola turns his lens on the film industry in present-day mainland China which already produces more films than Hollywood and is poised to take over as the world’s largest movie viewing market.
Featuring seventy colour photographs taken by Parascandola over a five-year period at over a dozen film production sites across China, the series reveals an expansive state-supported movie and television industry on an unparalleled scale. The movie sets, rivalling real-world cities and monuments in their scale, have themselves become destinations for tourists from all over the world.
Among the sites featured is China’s Hengdian World Studios, reportedly the largest film studio in the world made up of several distinct ‘film villages’, including a full-size replica of the Forbidden City. Other locales include the 1930s-era streetscape of the Shanghai Film Park, the rustic Western Film City on the edge of the desert in Ningxia Province, and the bizarre theme parks of Changchun Movie Wonderland and Huayi Brothers Movie World.
In the book’s introduction, Parascandola writes: “There is a formula at work here. The large-scale outdoor sets reflect specific episodes in China’s history-ancient battles of the Warring States Period, costume dramas of the Qing dynasty, conflicts of the nineteenth century Opium Wars, gangsters in 1930s Shanghai, or resistance under the Japanese occupation. Because so many movies and TV dramas share the same backdrops, filmmakers are able to reuse these locations, instantly recognizable to Chinese audiences, over and over.”
Yangsong Town Welcome Sign, Huairou, Beijing © Mark Parascandola
Props, China Film Group State Production Base, Beijing © Mark Parascandola
Wedding Photo Shoot, Shanghai Film Park © Mark Parascandola
Between Takes, China Film Group State Productions Base, Beijing © Mark Parascandola
Extras, Qing Ming Shang He Tu, Hengdian World Studios © Mark Parascandola
Military Rally Scene, Xiangshan Film and TV City, Ningbo © Mark Parascandola
Lunch Break, Shanghai Film Park © Mark Parascandola
Tour Group, Palace of Ming and Qing Dynasties, Hengdian World Studios © Mark Parascandola
Waiting for Action, Guangzhou and Hong Kong Streets, Hengidan World Studios © Mark Parascandola
The Sincere Company Department Store, Shanghai Film Park © Mark Parascandola
Extras, Xiangshan Film and TV City, Ningbo © Mark Parascandola
Enthroning of the First Emperor, Palace of Emperor Quin, Hengdian World Studios © Mark Parascandola
Live Action Movie Show, Huayi Brothers Movie World, Suzhou © Mark Parascandola
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