Visions in the smog: Hong Kong shot on film

Visions in the smog: Hong Kong shot on film
The Travel Diary — Photographer Elke Numeyer shares her hazy portraits of the island in a new series, capturing a picturesque region that’s riddled with cultural contradictions.

In April 2017, I visited Hong Kong.

The first thing I did when I arrived was step onto the rooftop of my rental apartment. From Kowloon, where I was staying, I could see the iconic skyline blanketed by smog and framed by lush green mountains – a view which blocked me from the tropical beaches and villages I knew existed on the other side.

Stepping out onto Nathan Road, I identified Tsim Sha Tsui as my home metro stop. Over the week I was to spend there, I would enter and exit the station about 30 times, without feeling as if anyone ever saw me or noticed my routine. I took day trips out to housing estates, where the sight of sky was minimal between apartment towers, and visited markets in Mong Kok, where I ate eel and steamed buk choi on a street-side restaurant with a leaking tin roof.

On the third day, I took the ferry to Hong Kong island. Between buildings, there were damp green canopies and steep stair-cases cutting through the layers and heights of the city. At times, it almost felt Western, with Caucasian models plastered over billboards and burger joints at every corner. But then you’d see the Orangutang sweeping between trees in Hong Kong Park, and public transport to beaches on the other side of The Peak.

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I felt anonymous with my camera. It was relieving to find benches where I could sit and watch locals playing checkers and practicing Tai Chi among the greenery. I was taught how to fight for the best dim sum in a busy tea-house where women dressed elegantly in silk shirts and men read newspapers with cigarettes hanging from their smiles.

Many locals looked exhausted, slowly ascending steep hills between buildings and limping down to the metro with sacks full of vegetables. Hong Kong is a city in constant negotiation with conflicting cultural influences. I found it difficult to grasp the complexity of its identity.

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On my last day, a heavy rain cleared the smog and the sun finally shone. A bus took me up and out of the city, but it wasn’t long before I got off prematurely to take some photos of the view. I found a hiking track that led me over to Stanley Bay after four hours of walking and the swim at the end felt well-earned.

I closed my eyes and drifted off on the beach. I thought about my mother who hung out there in the 70’s and wondered if its reputation as a hippie surfer village had maintained. Before falling completely asleep, a megaphone squeaked and a British voice began to bellow. “Hello, it is now time to reapply your sunscreen,” it shouted down the beach, a final reminder of the region’s contradictory nature. “Please pay attention to where your children are. Do not swim out too far in the water. Thank you.”

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See more of Elke Numeyer’s work on her official website, or follow her on Instagram.

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