Socially Conscious Photography | My True View of Hong Kong


Wanchai, Hong Kong Island
When I took this picture, my mother, who grew up and spent most of her life in Hong Kong, said to me, “These buildings are ridiculously old. They’re going to be torn down soon to make room for new businesses, and the people who live there are going to be homeless.”
I read this article on CNN today about the apparent disparity between foreign and local photographers in Hong Kong. It spoke about how while foreign photographers are usually fascinated by the geometries of the city skyline, locals are focused on “socially conscious photography” and uncovering the hidden problems of the city.

This reminded me of my last visit to my hometown, where I took my Canon S120 PaS to shoot for my blog, which has primarily an American/European audience. At the time, I wrote on my blog briefly that as a person who considers Hong Kong home, I found it challenging to find new angles and look at the city with a “new” eye. What I was getting at was- It felt unnatural to pick up my camera in the middle of a tram ride and take pictures of a route that was engrained in my head from the years I lived there. Aerial views from IFC, theskyscraper-lined harbor, the lights in Causeway Bay – even though these were places I have been one too many times as a child, I assumed that was what travelers and wanderists see as part of the whole fascination with the city. And therefore I made it my mission to see my home through a tourist’s lens in order to deliver a successful photo diary.
After coming across the article, I feel compelled to empathize with the struggle of Hong Kong photographers to be recognized by Eastern and Western artists. Sprawled all over Instagram are landmark-filled pictures of the vibrant city lifestyle in Hong Kong taken by visitors, and while the photography is beautifully executed, I can’t help but feel a disconnect. The more powerful, I find, are images like an elderly lady collecting cardboard in midst of blurred businessmen rushing to work, stacks of grime-y and battered apartments with laundry hanging out of the windows, or a street vendor desperate to break even for the day bartering with a lady cladded in designer luxuries. These resonate with me the most as a former resident. Even as a young child, I was made aware of the issues surrounding me and how fortunate and privileged I was. Considering this, I can clearly imagine the passion that local artists with more sophisticated opinions must feel. While not filled with glamour nor visual symmetry, they are true portraits of the city, of the problems that exist, and the messages Hong Kong artists are no doubt eager to convey.
My reason for writing is not to justify my own photography. It’s also not to stop tourists and photo-enthusiasts from taking stunning photos of the fashionable metropolis. But it is a call to not be fooled by the modernization. Even though an artist is free to take on any perspective and translate them in any form, we should always appreciate a place in its entirety and with the stories and depth that comes with it. 

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  1. Really love this post, it really made me think about all the social issues that can be ignored because they aren't as "aesthetically pleasing" as the cityscapes. Such an eye-opening post :)

    Paris x


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