PDN Photo of the Day

Through the Lens of a Writer: Interpreting J.B. Ballard’s Shanghai

James Bollen graduated from the Department of the Languages and Cultures of China and Inner Asia at the University of London’s SOAS school in 2001. Since then, he’s lived London, Beijing and Shanghai, photographing, writing and translating. Bollen is currently based in Shanghai, and recently published, Jim’s Terrible City, a book of photographs based on the novels of Shanghai-born writer J. G. Ballard.

“My connection to Ballard is, I feel, like many other readers of his work—that he is one of the few writers to make sense of the world we’re living in now and likely will be in the future,” Bollen told PDN via email. Images in Jim’s Terrible City reflect many elements of Shanghai—cityscapes, hotels, apartments, people going about their daily lives, landscapes, businesses, and amusement parks. The photos are rather muted, but the city, Bollen says, is not. “Shanghai is a very vibrant, bright city.”

“[The photos] are muted because I wanted them to reflect Ballard’s style of prose, which while being eloquent is quite spare. He said he used scientific vocabulary and adopted a scientific approach to his writing. I adopt a similarly matter-of-fact manner in my photographs.”

He took several thousand photographs over the course of two years and made about a dozen versions of the book. “Going the DIY route ended up taking three years, as I had to learn how to make the book using design software (I don’t have a design background) and get it printed with no prior experience.” Bollen did most of the book’s promotion himself. Word got out, he says, because of the Ballard name, various contacts he’s made throughout his career, and via the book’s distributor, Art Data.

Bollen’s next project is about the interiors of abandoned Shanghai housing and William Morris. He hopes to publish it in book form later this year. For more on Bollen, please visit his website.

Related: Tips for Self-Publishing Your Photo Book

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