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HKFP Lens: Illuminate Hong Kong highlights the delicate intimacy of a city in turmoil

Illuminate Hong Kong is a non-partisan project and platform that explores the mindset and spaces of citizens in Hong Kong through photography, light and language.
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It’s a pity that Hong Kong has been hijacked by a triangular force from arrogance management of HK government; naive groups of students which have been living under their greenhouse umbrellas and foreign countries which have ulterior motives to use HK as their political volleyball.

The project is done with reference to Hong Kong’s protests and civilians’ ongoing fight for freedom. “It is about allowing people to shed light while being protected by it,” its creator said.
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Hong Kong has always felt like a「福地」(fook-dey, blessed-land) to me. Despite the stress of city life I could always find refuge in my family, friends, and community.
Broken families, broken friendships, broken community, broken city, broken agreements, broken trust—the summer of 2019 tore apart the fabric of this city and the countless interwoven relationships of its 7 million inhabitants.

The series contains photographic portraits of Hong Kong citizens whose faces are made anonymous by washing out with light and accompanied by personal statements about their thoughts on Hong Kong and the recent protests, representing views from across the political spectrum.
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We don’t know how to win or when will we will win. Therefore we will fight in every way we can until we get the victory and freedom we Hongkongers deserve.

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My feelings got more complicated after an 18-year old boy was shot at point-blank range as if my feelings for this movement were not complicated enough before that. Helpless, unjust, disappointed, angry, hopeless, etc. The shame and guilt that come flooding in from not being brave enough to stay in the front to endure the “appropriate force” by the ‘green objects’. How is this going to end? How could I slow down in time and space when things are escalating rapidly every week? I don’t want to live in a parallel universe like many choose to. To some people, it is always easier to stay in denial; to not know. That’s not a way to live. That is barely surviving. Public servants who do not serve the public, it should be considered a disgrace to work in the police force as they vowed to protect Hong Kong citizens. Bloodshed, suspicious bodies found as they claim to be restoring public safety. People living in Yuen Long were left for dead. Hongkongers have been called rioters, cockroaches but the police have been the ones wounding the protestors. Unfair conditions in Letters of No Objection allow police to use excessive force in the most peaceful marches in Hong Kong, resulting in an escalation of violence from protestors as an act to fight back while the police could just retreat. Why can’t the people get the sequence right? I have lost the hope for having universal suffrage. Where is our freedom to express, to gather, to walk on the streets, to wear black and to criticise? When the world is learning to embrace equality and vulnerability, China seems to have fixated in good old world domination, literally. It is like a traumatized adult regressed to a toddler’s stage of fulfilling her missing experience of being strong, only later on to find out the rest of the World had actually moved on from invading other’s boundaries to respecting the boundaries we all deserve. Last but not least, if Hongkongers are cockroaches, let me remind you that cockroaches have been very resilient. Liberate Hong Kong, the Revolution of our Times. Hongkongers, Add oil!

The portraits themselves were lit with neon lights, long a visual representation of the city, and taken in bedrooms, homes and neighbourhood streets to reflect the intimacy of the shared viewpoints.
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In this chaotic circumstance, I volunteered to help save students. On November 18, I witnessed six students escaping from the canal and railway by the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. It is the most meaningful moment in my life.

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I stand with Hong Kong’s fight for freedom and I participate in the peaceful marches. Lately, I think the violence has gotten out of control from both the police and the radical protesters. We do need radical change but we need a plan, is that doable in a leaderless movement? It’s challenging because if we did have a leader who could stand up against China, fight for our rights and make long-term plans, they would probably end up in jail or worse, disappear in China. I worry that we will lose support from the rest of the world if the vandalism and crimes continue, but with such a corrupt police force it’s hard not to retaliate. At the same time, the protests have brought attention to and opened many eyes to the unjust system. I feel some hope with the recent elections weighing heavily in favour for the pro-democracy parties however I fear China’s power and I fear the unspeakable lengths they will go to keep it that way.

Each photograph is accompanied by a personal statement of the subject.
illuminate hk china extradition

I am a peaceful, rational and non-violent citizen who support Hongkongers and our freedom. Unlike any summer before, this summer was particularly tedious. It was a summer that Hongkongers shed their blood, tears and sweats. From the moment the government proposed the extradition bill, to 1 million then 2 million-strong peaceful protests on the streets, disappeared police force on 21 July, burying the truth of Prince Edward Station on 31 August, the criminal outlaw of Hokkien Clan – have completely left me in disbelief that this city – Hong Kong is where I grew up in. It has become an outlawed world with police being associated with the triads. I have since joined every march, supporting Hong Kong and its youth with my action. We will not give up pursuing the freedoms and beliefs that we deserve, and I wish Hongkongers could have a huge crowd hug very soon, as we take off our masks. Last but not least, may Glory be to Hong Kong.

“While we often think of light as something that reveals, the political turmoil that engulfed Hong Kong in 2019 created a special requirement for protection and anonymity in order to encourage open and unencumbered speech,” said the project’s creator.
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To Future HongKongers: Live for Hong Kong! Die for Hong Kong! A present Hong Konger, 2019.

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There are two groups of protesters. Two protestors were already safe and they saw a team of police arresting people from across the street so the two of them suddenly yelled at the police. Then the police turned towards our store and flashed their lights at us so we had to shut our gate for about half an hour. Within this period, I was able to help a few more people.

“Illuminate Hong Kong facilitates this by subverting the ordinary use of light from illumination to obfuscation, thereby offering a candid glimpse into the lives and mindset of Hong Kong citizens.”
illuminate hk china extradition

I support Hong Kong’s fight for freedom because freedom and rule of law is the foundation of Hong Kong. Also, the power of government is given by its people; now, on the other hand, its people are being oppressed by the government. Hence, we should resist. I would go on the streets and make donations to 612 humanitarian relief fund to support the protesters. Going on the streets is my way of taking part to show the government and the world the determination Hongkongers have. I could only believe that Chinese communist party will continue to put even more pressure on Hong Kong in the future, especially to the young generations. I sincerely hope that Hongkongers could stay united until the six demands have been completely and successfully answered and could continue to fight against the power and authority. This summer, I observed a corrupt government and police, twisted rule of law, but more importantly, I also observed the awakening of Hongkongers, united as one to fight the evil power of Hong Kong and communism. In addition, it excites me when seeing the intelligence in Hongkongers, our quick, reactive responses and the spirit of “trying harder to overcome the adversity.” Although I am feeling the increased pressure from the authority as days go by, I still strongly believe that Hongkongers can bring the whole world together, to fight the authority of communism for freedom and democracy of human-beings.

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I was born in the 60s and a native of Hong Kong. I went through the most glorious era in Hong Kong. Growing up in this land – Hong Kong is my hometown. Before 1997, although living under the British colonial system, most people didn’t need to pay attention to politics. Everyone lived in the rule of freedom and equality, and the whole city was harmonious. After HK returned back to China in 1997, the Chinese Communist Party outwardly advocated a high degree of autonomy of One Country Two systems in Hong Kong. But the CCP was proven to have no contractual spirit. It has consistently ignored the Sino-British Joint Declaration and constantly undermined the core value of Hong Kong as an international financial centre while creating white terror. The real intention of the CCP is to advance its form of totalitarianism for global control. Today Hong Kong. Tomorrow the world!

“In 2019, many people in Hong Kong shunned light in favour of collective anonymity. Protesters adorned elaborate face masks and black clothing; police put on heavy riot gear.”
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I was born and raised in Hong Kong during the 1970s and educated in the United States. I have always been proud of my identity being a Hongkongese. Hong Kong has always been a special, peaceful and unique city on this earth until this summer. I couldn’t believe what we used to have – freedom seems to be gradually taken away by the government or the so-called One Country Two Systems. Our basic human right is having the right to choose whether the result is good or bad. I watch as our rights become less and less, whereas the government’s power is getting larger and larger. This ridiculous power and control from the government are creating chaos in this originally peaceful little city. Citizens are fighting for what we originally had and should have – freedom.

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I grew up in Hong Kong, and have always loved how politically lively our citizenry is: despite the fact that most of our leaders and legislators have no direct accountability to its people, we still find ways to creatively and civically engage. A boisterous press and rowdy protest marches are part of who we are. These freedoms, of course, are on an immutable collision course with an authoritarian regime. They can’t last. But Hong Kong people are doing what we’ve always done in the face of curtailed political representation (which was a fact of life during British colonial rule and getting worse by the day) – we make noise about it. One argument I’ve heard a lot recently is that the cause of all this political unrest is economic. Whilst it’s certainly true that our local government has spent the last two decades spectacularly bungling economic issues by prioritising the wealth-hoarding interests of cartelised property developers and business tycoons at every turn, the fact is that the cause can be both economic and political. If basic housing, healthcare and educational needs were met, then our political discontent would not boil over quite as forcefully; at the same time, if we had true political enfranchisement, then we could elect people with the courage to actually enact those economic changes. The two go hand in hand. I work in emergency medicine, so I did volunteer first aid during the 2014 Umbrella Revolution. I did the same in the early days of the anti-extradition protests, but (and I say this with a lot of shame) I worry that I’ve now become too scared and too cynical to keep at it. It’s not simply out of fear for my own personal safety (although that is certainly a factor when other medics are being arrested or shot in the eye with rubber bullets), but also from a sense of numb futility. Even though volunteers do the best they can – I know many who use their own holiday time to spend 13-hour days handing out the gauze, saline, and Ventolin that they’ve paid for themselves – in truth, there’s sometimes little we can do out on the chaotic frontlines. Often the best thing for the injured is to go to A&E, but faith in the political neutrality of our public hospitals has also eroded, as protesters forego treatment out of concern that their data will be leaked to police. Hospitals, universities, the police, the judiciary: public trust in all these institutions have been squandered for the sake of a city-wide political intimidation campaign. It can be hard to feel like individual actions have any use when the forces we are up against are so structural, so systemic. Even as I wrestle with the guilt of feeling like there is always more I should do, I’m simultaneously suffused with the hopelessness in knowing there’s nothing anyone can really, truly do as 2047 looms. For me, what’s most depressing about these protests isn’t even the ultimate impossibility of preserving democratic freedoms under a totalitarian state. It’s that it has forced HK people to make enemies of one another. To be sure, both sides have made mistakes, and both sides have done things that I find morally indefensible. But the blind, paranoid partisanship of blue vs yellow is not only exhausting and unproductive, but it’s also a distraction from the real conflict at hand. I used to think that my participation via first aid would be a bulwark against this sort of destructive, knee-jerk division – healthcare workers are meant to be clinically impartial, after all. But it’s taken root and rotting us from the inside out just the same. We are wasting all our time and energy fighting our enemy’s proxies; the enemy itself just has to sit and wait.

“Almost too suddenly, Hong Kong’s identity became visually binary eschewing individual identity for partisan ideology and collective anonymity.”
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I come from Shenzhen in China and have lived in Hong Kong for nearly a decade. There is a wide spectrum of opinions among mainlanders towards this summer’s protests. I have felt very much conflicted. On one hand, Hongkongers’ negative sentiment towards China is at an all-time high. On the other, people on my WeChat Circle expressed views that are groundless or very much one-sided. I’m sad because I love China and I love Hong Kong, but this wall between Hong Kong and China is just getting higher and higher. I’ve been reticent on social media because I know for certain that my views will anger both sides and both sides would accuse me of being brainwashed. There’s no point of me trying to argue with anyone when there is so much misled and deluded bigotry from both sides. I feel sorry for the police even though I understand not all what they did was right. It’s not like the protestors are absolute saints and flawless even though they are absolutely on the moral high ground. I’ve heard protestors throwing very foul language at police. I’m also very against those who spread police officers’ private life on the internet. I don’t agree with the violence but that only means I would not participate myself. As I do understand why some people think violence is necessary and peaceful protest is not enough, because I could feel their desperation to protect the core values of their home and the hopelessness underneath. I understand where all the anger is coming from and how it has accumulated over the years. Violent protest is a way to show anger even though the city’s economy and people’s normal life have been at stake. Maybe it’s naive of me to hope that it’s a lesson learned for the Chinese authority, that Hongkongers cannot be trifled with, that Hong Kong’s core values must be protected and respected. In the meantime, I’m also very concerned about how little still some Hongkongers know about China. Hong Kong has freedom of the press but people only pick up bits and pieces without having a full picture. Rejecting China as a whole would mean not only are they “frogs being boiled by warm water,” but also “frogs that live at the bottom of a well” having tunnel vision. I know this has been said many times in Chinese propaganda. But I truly believe Hongkongers should not be blinded by their political views.

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It was a simultaneous interpretation, the first time I heard Carrie get yelled at. It’s a laugh to hear strings of Cantonese-expletives crispy translated into the Queen’s English in realtime by the Legislative Councils (LegCo) team of interpreters. The old Legislative Council building in 2007 was a lightly-patrolled, 2.5 storey neo-classical granite block, rimmed with colonnades and topped with a patio. The structure exuded the measured pomp of the previous colonial administration and was retained after the return of sovereignty while a replacement fitting the city’s future was built. I lingered for a few follow-up questions after her legislative tongue lashing. The eye roll I caught before she pushed by was invigorating. Even so, I was struck by her earlier performance. How does anyone sit there, get whipped and not lose their shit? After a few years, I’ve seen her subjected to hundreds of hours of in-your-face barbs and antics as she neared Hong Kong’s highest office. Now she’s on all of my feeds. She still performs like the same dedicated civil servant I first insulted with my presence but now she’s taking shit on a whole new level, though with the same constructive calm she’s honed for decades. She says her faith sustains her. I believe her. You’d need that level of faith at this point to ignore the obvious. She knows she’s right. She’s just being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. It’s a tough sell when your opposition feels the same way. An even harder sell when her real boss feels nothing or hurt. The new Legco Complex perfectly captures the current administration. It’s cold, steel and covered with dark surfaces. Nothing about it feels organic or soft. There’s a big hole in the middle which I suppose is where the heart would be if this one had one. People also seem to hate the new LegCo. It’s been beaten up way more than the old. Lam’s offices are somewhere up there, on the overhanging bit in the middle, I heard. I wonder if she can see me rolling my eyes. Maybe this time ours will meet.

“Illuminate Hong Kong is about using light to break this process down and explore the individual identities underneath; it is about how photography has the power to illuminate in both expected and unexpected ways.”
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I respect all opinions and values that any individual may have. What I can do is simply try my very best (even if it is just limited or a small effort compared to the universe) to help people in need. It is all because a human being is not a lifeless object, but a creature with mind and soul.

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When I graduated from journalism school I had a strong desire to engage in war reporting. But fate chose differently for me and I settled for a cosy life of journalism in Hong Kong. However, the protests this summer are the closest to war reporting I have experienced. I never thought I would see these scenes play out on my streets. At first, they were surreal, like looking at sequences from a Hong Kong gangster or sci-fi movie. But then it slowly became the ‘new normal’. Looking at how the protests have evolved through a lens was thrilling – and poignant for me as a Hongkonger. The levels of fervour, solidarity, anger and violence I witnessed would be etched in my memory for a long time.

The project can be viewed on its website and on Instagram.

HKFP Lens: Illuminate Hong Kong highlights the delicate intimacy of a city in turmoil