This is one of my favorites.
Hold-Out, Shanghai, 2004
This is called a dingzi hu, or "nail house." As older houses are torn down to make way for newer buildings, occasionally tenants refuse to leave or negotiate with the Chinese government and developers to vacate the premises. This nail house is located in one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the middle of Shanghai, right across the street from Starbucks.
"The negotiations weren't always comfortable and sometimes the locals didn't want to leave, and rather than going in and steam-rolling over them saying, "look, either take this or get nothing and we'll kick you out," (the government) had to negotiate. The press was beginning to have an effect and the tough tactics of getting somebody out who didn't want to go weren't working anymore. They were too divisive and creating a lot of grief for the Chinese government and the developers.
So what would happen is you'd get hold-outs and everything else would be flattened around them but you'd have these single solitary homes where the person or the family refused to move or take the offer or were holding out for more.
To me it represented that China was changing. This would probably never have been allowed 10 years ago, they would've just said take this and if you don't like it, too bad."
"A couple times I tried to shoot these houses and the next thing you know the police would come by and say 'what are you doing? Why are you doing this?' I said I'm an artist doing this project and we'd go to the police station and they'd bring in all my equipment. But we had letters and I had materials showing them that I'm an artist and that this is really part of my portfolio.
"They said 'you can shoot whatever you want but you can't shoot those buildings anymore because it's just too controversial and we don't like bringing attention to these hold-outs.'"
Photo: Ed Burtynsky