Rob Whitworth, an architectural photographer based in Shanghai, spends months at a time creating time-lapse videos of Asian cities. The Norwich School of Art and Design, U.K. graduate has been making his award-winning videos for the last two years. His most recent work, “This is Shanghai,” explores the city in all its eccentricity.
It begins by showing Shanghai’s famous skyline. Shanghai is home to more than 4,000 skyscrapers, more than twice as many as New York, all built in the last thirty years. But Whitworth and Singh went beyond the city’s obvious tourist attractions. To get a better idea of the heart of the city the two used Weibo, China’s main social media platform, to ask locals to share their thoughts on what they thought were the best vantage points and most characteristic locations of the city.
The video shows a taxi touring the city’s infrastructure, a boat chugging through the financial district. The camera zooms through the city’s lower levels to focus on the Moganshan road graffiti, before entering a restaurant preparing Shanghai’s signature pork dumplings: Shengjian bao. Bustling traffic is omnipresent. Whitworth explained his reasons for capturing Shanghai on film as follows: "The over-riding reason we made this video was to creatively show the world visually how China is rising; in particular Chinese cities. Just as New York City exemplified the strengths and ambitions of emerging America in the 20th century, Shanghai, perhaps more than any old or emerging rival, will personify the power and dreams of rising Asia in the 21st century."
Although “This is Shanghai” is Whitworth’s most ambitious project to date, it is not the first time his filmmaking has impressed. One of his first, entitled “Traffic in Frenetic Ho Chi Minh City” went viral almost as soon as it was posted, and has received over two million plays. It captures buses, bicycles, cars, and motorcycles whizzing through intersections all at once, almost magically managing not to collide. Headlights become blurs at night, circling roundabouts like fireworks.
One of his next works, “Kuala Lumpur Day/Night,” was officially released by Yahoo! Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur’s iconic Petronas Towers become the focal point of a journey through colorful neighborhoods and streets, parking lots and subway stations, restaurants and high end stores, malls and parks, palm trees and fountains. A sun rises and sets in a bright orange sky while the video shutters rhythmically from day to night. The artist says that this piece took "5 months. 400 hours of solid work. 4 cameras. 40 shoots. 640 gigabytes of data. 19,997 photographs."
Whitworth took on a slightly different project in “Life in the Fast Lane. Hoi An: Ancient Town.” Instead of picking a famous urban center, Whitworth tackles a day in the almost equally frenetic well-preserved Southeast Asian trading port of Hoi An, Vietnam. Here, a boatman has to duck under a low bridge, vendors buy, sell, and count their money, ferries are overloaded with people and bicycles, and lanterns glow in the night sky.
Whitworth’s videos have won several awards, including Best Experimental Film at Tiburon International Film Festival, Jury’s Choice Award at Kuala Lumpur Eco Film Fest, and Wojciech Jerzy Special Award at Snap Film Festival. He is definitely an artist to watch.