VISITORS to an exhibition that toured six countries last year were amazed by a special view of Shanghai — a 360-degree panorama from the top of the Jin Mao Tower, to be precise.
“Shanghai 360°,” an exhibition by German architectural photographer Hans-Georg Esch, features a 50m-by-3m, 360-degree panorama composed of 60 photos taken from the 88-story Lujiazui landmark, Shanghai’s third-tallest building at 420.5 meters.
The exhibition attracted some 30,000 visitors during a 5-day show in New York, more than 72,000 in six days in Cologne, and Esch expects the crowds to keep flocking when it opens in other cities as planned.
Esch, who was born in 1964 in Neuwied, on the banks of the Rhine, says he was excited about bringing a glimpse of Shanghai — which he describes as a beautiful modern city in the ancient country — to people around the world.
“The skyline of Shanghai is world famous, but not everybody has the chance to visit the city,” says Esch. “What I am doing is bringing a world to the world.”
As a 12-year-old Esch became hooked on recording the historic castles along the Rhine with his camera. He says it was one of his childhood dreams to capture the world’s most beautiful architecture, a dream he is realizing in his work as an architectural photographer.
Esch first came to Shanghai in 1997, when he was commissioned by a German lighting company to photograph buildings and streets in Puxi.
“There weren’t many skyscrapers across the river in Pudong at that time, except for the Oriental Pearl TV Tower,” says Esch. “And just look at what we have now.”
The photographer fell in love with the city on this first trip, saying he was impressed by the great vitality, the buildings, the food and the kindness and generosity of its people.
A frequent visitor in the years since, Esch has witnessed the astonishing development of Shanghai.
“There’s been so much progress happening in the city within such a short time. It is like an explosion of creativity,” says Esch. “And I’ve always wondered how demanding it must be for the people here to keep up with the pace. They must be very smart to do so.”
Inspired by a painting he saw at a museum in Salzburg, Austria, in 2010, Esch decided to create similar small worlds with his camera.
He had his first attempt at a castle in Salzburg, and has since created similar works in St Moritz in Switzerland and New York.
While making his 360-degree panorama in New York, Chinese photographer Liu Heung Shing suggested to Esch that he should do a similar thing in China.
“I thought, ‘Sure, I will.’ And when I got down to it, I knew I would definitely do it in Shanghai — the city with the most impressive skyline,” says Esch.
With the help of the Information Office of Shanghai Municipality, Esch visited many of the city’s skyscrapers in the spring of 2013, finally deciding on the Jin Mao Tower as the visual center of the work.
“As a landmark in Shanghai, Jin Mao offers great views, even though it’s not the city’s tallest building,” says Esch.
Designed by Chicago architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Jin Mao Tower opened in 1999. It was replaced as the city’s tallest building by the 492-meter Shanghai World Financial Center in 2007, itself superseded by the 632-meter Shanghai Tower, which is currently nearing completion. All stand close to each other in Lujiazui.
“Visitors won’t see Jin Mao Tower in the panorama as they’re supposed to feel like they’re standing at the top of it, but they can see it through the reflection on the nearby Shanghai World Financial Center.”
It took Esch 10 days to get the pictures he wanted, with the right lighting and clear skies.
Esch and his team would reach the top of the building at 4am every day, and wait for sunrise. For their second session, they would return at 4-5pm to shoot sunset.
He selected 60 images out of hundreds, digitally “stitched” them together and printed them off to create his scroll. This is displayed in a round exhibition space to give a 360-degree view.
“Visitors were all excited about the view, and afterward some said they wanted to visit the city to see it for real,” says Esch.
The photographer was recently in Shanghai, planning his next 360-degree panorama of the city with the local information office.
As a city of both modern experimental skyscrapers and historical architecture, Esch wants his next work to document both the modern and classical in Shanghai.
“We’re still discussing a location where we can record both these different kinds of beauty,” says Esch. “It might not be an easy job, but in China nothing’s impossible.”