Most people associate Hong Kong with photos of grand neon cityscapes, crowded shopping plazas, the harbour, Victoria Peak, the whole “east meets west” melange… what I wanted to share with this photo is the Hong Kong I grew up with. I have a lot of extended family there and we used to visit at least once a year, so I grew up seeing and experiencing a lot of the mundane things – peak hour traffic, meal times, the evening news, construction work, elderly folk practicing tai chi in the local parks… rituals and customs I’ve always taken for granted that I’ve since learned may be completely alien to other cultures.
This shot began as a street photography exercise. I picked the Mong Kok (旺角) area firstly because it was close by, and secondly because I knew that the tightly packed streets would give me an excellent mix of commuters, students, markets and shop owners going about their business. I chose to go in the early morning, around 6.30am, to avoid capturing clichéd tourist photos; but also because I felt that the smog and the cold morning light would reveal a more raw and unfiltered view of Hong Kong, without the usual array of people and neon signs and blackened night skies that hide all of its flaws.
I walked past this little scene while walking along Argyle Street (亞皆老街), somewhere between Sai Yeung Choi Street (西洋菜南街) and Sai Yee Street (洗衣街). Up to that point, I’d been photographing students racing for the bus, people queuing up for newspapers, shop keepers having breakfast, people buying fresh produce… what I was immediately struck by was how personal this moment was. This woman was up at the wee hours of the morning, helping her grandson get ready for school because the child’s parents aren’t there (presumably gone to work or something). It reminds me of how often I’ve had to explain that it’s not uncommon for Chinese families to look after each other like that, whether it’s looking after our parents into old age, or looking after our grandchildren so that the parents can go to work.
Part of me ached wondering if my grandmother would’ve done this for me had she not passed away so young and, in some ways, I could see in this moment my own mother tending to my son.
I had an 85mm f/1.4D lens attached to my Nikon D700, so I was able to kneel and take two quick snaps from where I was across the street without them noticing. Or so I thought. The boy noticed me on the second shot and started tugging at his grandmother’s sleeve and pointing at me, so I promptly got up and left before it got awkward.
Anyway, here’s the shot in its original form. I changed it to black and white to draw more attention to the child and his grandmother, and also because I felt the blues and reds were too distracting.
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