Except for a stopover in San Francisco, Shen Wei went straight from his Shanghai birthplace to attend MCAD. He thought he'd learn to do graphic design, or painting. But then he picked up a camera for the first time.
Shen has since published, purchased, and shown his work in many places. His most recent project, Chinese Sentiment, collects the first pictures he’d ever taken of his homeland. “In China there was not such a thing as fine art photography,” he explains in the 2011 book presenting the project. Family members were artists of other sorts, and before he came to MCAD he’d done some advertising and packaging design. However, “there was no soul in that work,” and so he applied his curiosity and empathy to photography.
Despite the careful framing and lighting in his pictures, many of them portraits, Shen says he “works very spontaneously . . . often purely with my instinct.” He invites casual acquaintances, even strangers, to sit for his camera, and the results are composed, with touches of sadness or isolation. Ironically, this ‘isolation’ can be found in both New York City, his new home, or in some of most densely settled places in China.
Shen works with both conventional analog/darkroom techniques as well as digital tools; his curiosity continues unabated. He’s even drawn to another classic genre, the still life, though with radically dis-assembled elements. “It’s like taking portraits of objects,” he explains.