There’s a particular kind of image comes to mind when you picture Hong Kong. Whether you’re imagining a postcard-perfect skyline or the latest piece by a local art photographer, the most common perception of the city is of its density and the sheer scale of its skyscrapers. “When most people come to Hong Kong, they want to shoot this kind of photo,” says photographer Chak Kit, known on Instagram as @_chakmkit. “A concrete jungle that’s very condensed, messy, and chaotic. They always think of Hong Kong in this way.”
Until last year, Chak was one such photographer himself, shooting Hong Kong’s multitude of buildings from the sky with his drone and posting them to his Instagram account. Recently, however, he made a change. “Everyone does the same thing, and I feel that it’s boring,” he continues, explaining his endeavour to use “colours, lines and patterns” to present a new perspective of the city.
Navigate to Chak’s website and you’ll find his bio, where he states: “My goal is to show people something different in Hong Kong.” During our interview at a café in Wan Chai, he explains what that “something different” is. Scrolling through his Instagram feed on his phone reveals his style’s extraordinary evolution. Photos of buildings — sometimes dizzying, sometimes suffocating — eventually give way to pared back, Pop Art-bright visions of the city.
In a photo captioned “Way back home,” two figures traverse a seemingly never-ending crosswalk. Another two peek from behind a sloping white curve, which looks just as likely to be a piece of graphic design as part of a building (“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist”). Candy-coloured stripes cover what would otherwise be a run-of-the-mill public housing estate (“Tiny man and rainbow”). “At first, I believed I couldn’t find these very clean objects and this kind of minimalism in Hong Kong,” says Chak. “But I was wrong.”
Though Chak is an artist, he speaks in percentages and quantities rather than in abstract or inspirational terms. His approach to learning his craft is relentlessly pragmatic. While his initial approach to photography was more carefree and spontaneous, he soon began investigating the more technical aspects of photography, teaching himself by watching YouTube videos and perusing the portfolios of more accomplished photographers. Editing in particular plays an important role in his work today. “Only five or ten percent of my photos are realistic,” he says. “The others are surreal.”
Scrolling back to “Way back home,” he explains how he took a series of shots from a footbridge in Tsuen Wan, then stripped away the majority of objects in the shots. Finally, he took a strip of road and repeated it to create the background. “But it depends,” he says. “I don’t think there’s a formula.”
Chak only began taking photographs three years ago. He picked up the hobby as a bit of a lark, snapping pictures while on hikes and sharing them on Instagram. Now he has over 20,000 followers and his work has garnered interest from local galleries such as Yellow Korner, as well as from photography enthusiasts both at home and beyond. He launched his website due to popular demand from his audience, and now he has individuals in far-flung locales like Poland, Romania and the Middle East.
But his goal isn’t to use his photography to make money. He often turns down paid work or collaborations. “Once you use your interest as your tool to get money, then it’s no longer your interest,” he says. “You have pressure, you have to get approval from the people who pay you.” Besides, he has his day job as a user experience project manager to take care of the bills. “It’s too stable,” he admits, with a laugh. “I take some crazy shots to balance my life.”
Compromising his vision would mean diluting his unique perspective of Hong Kong, after all. “I enjoy being an Instagrammer rather than a professional photographer,” he says. “A professional photographer has rules. I just want to use my own way.”
Visit @_chakmkit on Instagram for more of his work