Eric Mannaerts, a detective-photographer who walks the streets of Shanghai

The charm of a city can be measured by the number of photographers it attracts, especially those coming from other parts. (¡­)
When I say Shanghai¡¯s points of attraction, I am not referring to that exaggerated glittering iconic architecture and those landmarks already reproduced en masse in official propaganda brochures and touristic postcards. (¡­) Obviously Eric Mannaerts is not someone susceptible to falling for those lures. Because he belongs to the category of photographers who use the camera to find the things, atmosphere and scenery others have not found, and to produce stimulating visual material, he is what I would call an author - or writer-photographer. (¡­)
Eric said he likes the mystery novels of Shanghai writer Qiu Xiaolong who now lives in the United States.  Examining his pictures, we can now say that he himself is the photographer who wants to show us the absurd atmosphere and the mystery-solving through photography.  A backlit man whose head has been truncated by the viewfinder walking on the  zebra crossing; a bird-view shot of a silent factory looking like a fortress; the reflection of a staring eye through a shop window; a sculpted Greek head above a concrete sink¡­ This is what Shanghai has become, a distant, cold, gloomy and blunt city. Clearly, under his lens, Shanghai has become a crime scene with clues and marks left by people with obscure or unknown motives. Eric himself has thus morphed into the theorizing Inspector Chen of Qiu Xiaolong¡¯s detective novels. (¡­)
 To obtain these pictures, the first thing a photographer must do is to take a walk. He has to become what Baudelaire called a ¡°flaneur¡±, in order to experience the pleasure of walking the street, and of finding exciting things, scenes and people. The basic approach, reminiscent of the search for clues at a crime scene, is to look for the strong enough visual evidence called ¡°found objects¡±. Let me point out, by ¡°found object¡± I do not mean only evidence bearing singular characteristics; I would also incorporate what Eric Mannaerts has intercepted and reconstructed as ¡°found images¡±.
Discovering ¡°found objects¡± is the basic approach of the Surrealist Movement to uncover the ¡°Convulsive Beauty¡± of the world. (¡­) In Eric Mannaerts¡¯ photography there is effectively a shading of suspense tainted by a sense of fiction, of irony and surrealism. What differentiates him from Inspector Chen is that in the scenes he composed based on the ¡°found objects¡± gathered during his walks, he merely photographs them but bears no responsibility for solving their mysteries.(¡­)
 Those who might suspect some evil intention from Mannaerts can rest assured. From his point of view, if Shanghai looked like that, other cities would look the same. (..)
A photographer who has read mathematics and literature, Eric Mannaerts is capable of turning the plain and the dull into something surprising and striking. From a pile of torn pieces of photographs he can conjure up the city of suspense that he imagines.  If Shanghai were devoid of those fantastic ¡°found objects¡±, then Shanghai would have really lost its remaining charm. By that time, it will be about time that Mannaerts gives up photographing Shanghai. Luckily for us, that time has yet to come.
Therefore, there are still promising finds from Eric Mannaerts to be revealed.

Gu Zheng

Professor at Fudan University, Author, Critic, Photographer and Curator

Eric Mannaerts - Shanghai Villie
4 color printing
120 pages