Zhou HanShun – Frenetic City

Review by Douglas Stockdale

Living in a large urban city can be an intense experience. The constant crush of humanity at times a little bit overwhelming, while trying to find some personal space may be slightly vexing. Perhaps this is more of the view point of someone who finds themselves immersed in this sea of humanity dropping in from a place that does not have the same intensity of an urban hustle and bustle. Attempting to capture this experience is the focus of Zhou HansShun self-published photobook Frenetic City. As implied in the book’s title, HanShun finds an urban landscape moving at frantic pace verging on becoming a wild and out of control condition.

To provide a wonderfully metaphoric visual sense of the urban pandemonium, HanShun has created a series of graphic black and white photographs in which his subjects are blurred by slowing and overlapping the exposure’s duration. This photographic process abstracts the human element of this densely populated urban landscape, creating indistinct identities while still revealing that we are observing many individuals who are intent on going someplace and somewhere. 

This body of work reminds me of the Russian photographer Alexey Titarenko whose book Photographs investigated the dense and constantly moving population of St. Petersburg. Whereas Titarenko distilled the urban throngs into an indistinct gray fog, HanShun allows some tactile sense of who inhabits these cities, providing more of a sense of the humanity. Within the intermediate scale of his urban landscape, HanShun captures the poignant embrace of a couple, the intense stare of man confronting the photographer, a woman capturing passing events on her mobile phone, the ghostly shape of a woman walking directly at the camera, and a dog which momentarily lingers long enough to have its image captured. He appears to emphasize that there are people that live in the city and we should not lose sight of that aspect.

This book captures a pulse of a city that has monetarily been slowed down while still retaining a sense of ambiguity that creates a visual representation of an urban living experience. The soft blurring of the masses in conjunction with the hard edges of the built environment conveys the permanence of the city as compared to the impermanence of those who momentarily inhabit the space. The mashup and blurring of his subjects is about another narrative element, that of time that exists in a city. We are only here for a short time as compared to the life of the buildings and infrastructures of an urban center.

HanShun has sequenced a nice mix of singular images that have ample white margins with double-page full bleed spreads. The singular images provide a chance to study details of this urban landscape while the double page spreads provide a sense of the overwhelming presence of those who live in this densely populated community. That an image flows off the page’s edge of these immense spreads underlines the sense of urban pace and scale. This alternative framing is representative of living in a densely populated city; at times intense and other times when one seeks out a quite spot, some solitude in which to watch and experience the humanity play.

The scale, framing and signage of this urban landscape provides clues as the potential location, grounding the reader that they have been dropped into the middle of a large international location as a representative urban city. This lyrical project represents many of the large urban and densely populated cities in the world; Manhattan in New York, Berlin or Munich in Germany, Paris in France, Amsterdam in the Netherlands, Los Angeles or San Francisco in California. In each of these metropolises, the flowing crowds can be overwhelming, literally a sea of humanity, but even within that sea individuals still exist.


 Frenetic City, Zhou HanShun

Photographer: Zhou HanShun, born and resides in Singapore

Self-published, Singapore, copyright 2020

Foreword: Donatella Montrone

Text: English

Hardcover, image wrap, black and white plates, printing & sewn binding by Allegro Print Pte Ltd, ISBN 978-981-14-6567-3

Photobook Designer: Zhou HanShun


Articles and photographs published on PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).

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