near Ma On Shan Central Park

Adjacent to Ma On Shan Central Park, facing Tolo Harbour, is a homely stretch.

On a leisurely weekend, you’ll find joggers, sunrise/sunset photographers and people simply out for a walk.

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I’ve underexposed these shots, and realized one could transform the homely and familiar into something uncanny, slightly gothic and perhaps even frightening.

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I think it has to do with seeing and not being able to see. Simply by playing with light, one could change things.

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That is why I think street photography is about “capturing” as much as constructing and playing with reality.

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Ode to Retail

I don’t usually do color photography as I find it hard to “coordinate” the colors alongside the action in the frame. But the environment in this case seems to call out for it.

This was the beginning of a trip to Festival Walk, a shopping mall. My son wanted to pick up a few books at Page One. We sat at the front of a mini-bus.

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For those not familiar with Hong Kong: Festival Walk is a gigantic shopping mall with a skating rink and cinema. I often got lost the first few times I was here.

There are so many escalators and reflective surfaces. There is a fun house mirror effect every time we are on the escalators:

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We forget which way is up and which way is down…

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I think this is the point, that the design of malls are slightly disorienting so that the shopping experience feels slightly unreal. Our ability at making rational choices are somewhat incapacitated – we lose track of time and spend more than we had originally intended.

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I am reminded of a hotel called “Lotus Casino” in The Titan’s Curse, a novel in the Percy Jackson series, in which the characters were trapped. They were reluctant to leave the hotel because it was so fun. (The environment of casinos, of course, are meant to be unreal so that the chips [money] you’re losing look inconsequential anyway because you are just playing a game of Monopoly.) I’m thinking of those casinos in Macau now, especially the Greek Mythology Casino, complete with a gigantic statue of Zeus…

Here, the literary scholar in me is reminded of Fredric Jameson’s discussion of the Westin Bonaventure Hotel, about how the postmodern architecture is tied in with the (totalitarian?) logic of late capitalism.

It’s so easy in the mall. We look and point and buy:

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Everything is on show and so very photogenic, and the unreal becomes part of the experienced reality we consume and hence take for real:

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I almost forgot to leave.

My Singapore

I was in Singapore recently and of course, I brought along my Leica M6 fixed with a 50mm Summicron.

I was paranoid at first about the film going through airport x-rays. But I could see no fogging to my beloved Ilford XP2 films on a previous trip despite them having gone through 4 x-ray cabin baggage scanners at the airport at HK airport, then at Dubai where I transited, and back again.

I took a walk around my neighbourhood and walked past him, circled around, and took this:

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This was at the National Library. I simply love this particular angle of the architecture:

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This was in Hans, the café at the library. I like the rectangular grid:

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And yes, the kacang puteh man:

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You might say there’s a statement here waiting to be made about the life of a kacang puteh seller, as our attention is drawn to the newspaper headline the seller has put up.

And then I had my Singapore-style chicken rice here. They do it very differently in Hong Kong…

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The photograph below sums up my ambivalent attitude towards my country of birth, in which I’ve spent 3/4 of my life before moving to Hong Kong. About 80-85% of the people live in public housing, and the facades of these HDB flats are often used as symbols of conformity, depicting the cookie-cutter and pigeonholed lifestyle and aspirations of middle-class Singaporeans. I have in mind those haunting images at the beginning of Eric Khoo’s 12 Storeys.

I think of the photograph below as saying something opposite.

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I like the tree here because it symbolizes something else, that perhaps there is life, rejuvenation and fresh insights that might arise. I sense a poem coming …

Finally, since some of my friends have been asking about my street photography and the point of it all, here’s an essay by Nick Turpin that says it.

I especially like this quote from Nick’s essay:

“As a Street Photographer you are different, you are not like the others, you are an oddity both in society and in photography. In society you are odd because you are just standing their [sic] looking whilst everyone rushes past to their next shopping experience or intake of salty, sugary, fatty food. In photography you are odd because your motivation is not financial and you don’t go to photo trade shows unless it’s to people watch. You are really not part of either world, it can be lonely not talking about equipment and bags and not oiling the wheels of retail….if it weren’t for online street photography forums you could feel isolated like some lonely eccentric.”

Sometimes I stop and look around and wonder where everyone is rushing off to…

Looking Out a Bus Window

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This is one of those grungy images that jumped out at me. I was on a double-decker bus and he was on an adjacent seat, looking out. I like the urbane, dreamy and defiant attitude. Definitely a Wong Kar-wai Chungking Express moment for me. In fact, the bus went past Chungking Mansions moments before I pulled out my camera.

That Nikon signage was a serendipitous element so crucial to street photography.

Glasgow and Edinburgh

Oops – how time flies. I’ve been busy. Between June and August I’ve been to Glasgow to give a conference talk on poetry and photography at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, popped over to Edinburgh to visit the museums, came back to Hong Kong, back to Singapore, to HK, to SG and back to HK again.

So here’re 2 of my artist friends I’ve met in Glasgow – it was wonderful to be talking to them about the various paintings we saw at the Kelvingrove.

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I simply love the street life in Glasgow and Edinburgh:

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These were all shot with my trusty Yashica 35 GX.