Some exhibitions are the products of months of careful planning and meticulous curation. Others, such as the upcoming UP // DOWN: Hillside Hong Kong, come together after a brief yet intense flurry of activity – with no less of a striking impact. After just a few weeks of organisation, the exhibition was announced only a week before its opening date. The event itself features a similarly speedy running time: it will only last for one week. Those who make it over will be treated to diverse perspectives of Hong Kong from four photographers.
When it comes to world-class metropolises, Hong Kong is often uttered in the same breath as cities such as Paris, London, New York and Tokyo. A distinctive factor that sets the Fragrant Harbour apart from these locales, however, lies in its topography. “The landscape of Hong Kong Island isn’t optimal for a big city,” explains photographer Jeremy Cheung. “Other well-known cities are all built on plains, not hills.”
From this idea, the concept behind the exhibition was born. Running at newly opened gallery and multidisciplinary event space NU Space in Mid-Levels, the show features Cheung alongside fellow Hong Kong photographers Kevin Mak and Sunny Liu, as well as Belgian photographer Hans Leo Maes. The geographical theme also celebrates NU Space’s neighbourhood of Sai Wan.
Cheung, Mak and Liu, who were invited to participate in the exhibition by NU Space’s proprietor, have all known each other for several years thanks to Instagram and Instagram-based meet up events. The three then invited Maes to join them after deciding that his photographic approach was a harmonious complement to their own.
The four were granted full creative control of the exhibition, selecting which of their works would be included. Their shared rapport meant that curating the exhibition’s content was a breeze; each photographer would contribute four works showcasing different aspects of the city informed by their varying creative backgrounds and aesthetic approaches. Mak and Maes are practicing architects, while Cheung focuses mostly on commercial photography of events and brands with the occasional art or design-related project.
Upon discussing the exhibition ahead of its opening, it’s evident that each photographer gave careful consideration to what each of their works would bring to the overall collection of images – four photographs is a fairly limited allowance to work with, after all. “I tend to include more of a human side in my photos,” says Cheung. “All my pictures have humans in them – usually normal occupants of Hong Kong. I want to bring human character against the background of nature.”
Maes, on the other hand, favours a clean, geometric approach that puts the spotlight on structures. “I aim for a very neutral, clinical aesthetic in my photographs so as not to divert attention away from the subject,” he said. “I want to focus viewers’ attention on the weird and wonderful nature of our living environment, especially the buildings and infrastructure that surround us.”
Conversely, Liu describes his work as “chaotic,” choosing to focus on aspects of the city that are fading away, whether low-hanging neon lights or traditional crafts. For Mak, it’s more about contrasts – juxtaposing areas of the city that most pass by during their day to day lives alongside instantly recognisable cityscapes. “One of my images is of a curved footbridge located in the upper Central area,” he explained. “I’ve shown the image to my friends many times and they don’t know where it is. In contrast with this, because my approach is based on oppositions, I showed another image that’s very familiar — a back alley corridor between these old buildings in lower Central.”
As different as their visions are, the four all agree on one thing: that Hong Kong is place filled with intriguing hidden sides just waiting to be discovered.
UP // DOWN: Hillside Hong Kong will take place at NU Space from April 15 to 22, 2018.