Street Photography in North Point

Why to do street photography in North Point?

Last week-end, I decided to explore with street photography in North Point. Always located on Hong Kong Island, this area offers some quite interesting architectural gems.  It is also an excellent location for street photography and on the tram line. Another example of street photography in Central instead was posted here.

Architecture

The interest of North point is probably first and foremost the architecture. While walking there, I came across this wonderful place called “State Theater”, which is now a derelict cinema. Originally built in 1952, this building has as peculiarity the exposed arches on the roof.

State theater of Hong Kong
The building, although old and badly maintained still provides an impressive view.

Seeing and photographing this building is all the more important as there are rumors that it might be destroyed in the coming years.

For photographers, State Theater provides a very interesting perspective on cityscape, especially when associated with the passing trams.

State theater and tram
A tram passing on the road before the state theater.

Compression

Similarly, North Point is also the location of several examples of “architectural compression”, such as Montane mansion. Other examples are present anywhere you walk into, such in this case, sun shining through these shades in a side alley.

emergency stairs
In a side alley, sun shines through the emergency stairs.

But all over North Point, the architecture is really striking. Here, for example a building just near to the State theatre building.

Compression facade
Another of the buildings whose curved surface shows the compression efforts at work.

Another form of compression observable, is the geometric compression, where structures are decorated and organized in forms that rely on geometry. Here this stairway is just near to Fortress Hill station.

Compression
Another form of compression suggested by tight lines contained in a frame.

Markets and shop owners

North point has also a number of markets with very friendly locals who will take great pleasure to explain you their history if you take the time to start a discussion with them. Here a butcher kindly posed for the picture.

Butchers
A butcher poses at his shop in North Point
Butcher shop North Point
The butcher’s shop in North Point

The beauty of street photography, especially in North Point is the communication it makes feasible with people. For example, I asked permission to take the portrait above… And later, I talked to the shop owner of a sewing shop just next door. He was extremely proud to tell me the history of his shop, which was set up by his parents over fifty years ago. Somehow, testament to the age of the shop, they kept the same boxes, which makes for an excellent picture too. He also kept over 50 years old buttoning machines.

Button boxes
Button boxes (very old ones too!) in a button shop.
Buttoning machines
An over 50-year old buttoning machine.

Along the way, you can also find typical scenes such as the featured picture.

The tram

Last but not least of the beauties of street photography, just taking the tram around can deliver some interesting pictures.

Here, for example, a tram carries a publicity for Sansiri, the Thai condominium developer. These ads are not astonishing as Thai developers have been trying to tap (with some success) into the Chinese money and attract investors.

Sansiri ads
A tram with ads for Sansiri the Thai property developer

From a photographic point of view, the tram rails and the lines allow for some easy photography in terms of composition.

Like here, a variation on “why did the cart cross the rails” using the lines and the pattern on the street markings.

Why did the cart cross
A man carries furniture across the tram rails.

And when you are bored, you can try some easy panning shots. Here, a tram with an ad for China Daily a mainland English-language newspaper.

Tram with panning shot
Tram with panning shot

If that’s not good, you can still try the minibus which also rush by.

Minibus
Minibus rushing at night

If you prefer more static photography, this building offers some nice texture at night.

texture
Nice texture at night for this local building.

 

All in all, doing street photography in North Point allows to see that mix of modernity and tradition which makes Hong Kong so attaching.

I will leave the last word to this little message stuck on a window of the tram:

Deserve some rest
You deserve some rest

How to get there?

The easiest way is to take the MTR to either Fortress Hill or to Taikoo Place or Quarry Bay and walk from one station to the other.

Mirrors and illusions

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Sometimes, you can make interesting photography in the most boring of places. Take a mall, for instance. But when you look more closely, you can sometimes take interesting photos. Photos that will bring the viewer to question his eyes in a maze of mirrors and illusions.

Ingredients for this photoshoot

The main ingredient was the place, which is the Festival Walk mall, in Kowloon Tong. The mall has the particularity of having an intricate set of escalators which are equipped with mirrors, hence providing a very interesting visual effect when photographed from above.

I originally shot this series in colors, but then transformed them into black and white, as color detracted from the original impression.

Look at this picture, for instance:

To contrast and show the different effects.

And compare it with this one:

Criss-crossing escalators and their reflections lead to a real visual vertigo.

The force of black and white

The black and white picture takes away all the confusion and the points of attachment (which in themselves could also induce another element of confusion). Look for instance at the blue bag of the lady on first escalator and the blue t-shirt of the guy below. The eye bounces between the two similar colors.

In black and white, the lines and perspectives guide our eye, alone. The picture becomes very simple to read. Intersecting lines and reflections do trouble our brain and lead us to wonder which is real, which is an illusion.

When is color relevant?

In some cases, similar pictures can still be used in color.

Here, another case where you can’t tell what is reality or reflection… Except for a slight deformation in the reflection.

Here, for example, the muted tone of the above scene (reality) is dominated by the vivid tones of the reflection. Hence leading the eye below rather than above. It is a case where illusion looks better than reality…

How to get there?

Now, this is a place which is very easy to get to. Just get down to the MTR station Kowloon Tong. A long coridoor leads straight from the MTR to the mall. For the best effect, go straight to the top.

First encounter with Japan in France: the kimono musician in Paris

My first encounter with Japan actually happened in… France! Indeed, as a teenager, I had just started photography with my Canon EOS 600, at the times of the film camera (around 1990). It is where I saw this young kimono musician playing in the gardens of Tuilleries (near the Louvre).

The kimono musician

This young lady was playing the traditional instrument called “koto”, obviously busking, probably to pay for her studies. In a very Japanese attempt at perfectionism, she even wore a kimono while playing in the hot summer sun.

At the time, the police was quite strict on buskers and vendors in the garden, but yet, they tolerated this lady, probably because of the exquisite poetry of this scene.

Looking back at this scene, shot before the social medias became a pest and before people would start posting all about Japan or their trips, I guess this sparked my interest for Japanese culture and its refinement.

I was still a pretty shy guy at the time, so one regret I have today is not having spoken to the young lady. But photography can open worlds to you.

The Koto

In an interesting cultural twist (I believe I mentioned that this blog was also about showing cultural interactions), the Koto originally comes from China, where it was called guzheng (古箏) and it was imported to Japan around the VIIth century AD.

Originally reserved to the imperial court, playing Koto is a sign of aristocracy. However, few are the young Japanese ladies who are still capable of playing the instrument with some degree of proficiency. As such, this young lady was probably placing herself among the most refined of her society. Why did she have to play the instrument for busking? An interesting question to which we may never have an answer.

If you are looking for more information about the Koto, you may visit this site: Musique traditionnelle japonaise (French).

The old man and the sea

An opportunity picture, shot on the outskirts of the fishing village of Tai O, in Lantau which made me think of Hemingway’s “the old man and the sea”. This fisherman was staying under the harsh sun to carry out some subsistence fishing.

A sunny day

This picture is somehow reminiscent of the book by Hemingway, the old man and the sea, for the communion that can be felt between the sea, the mountain in the back ground and the lone figure of the fisherman.

That day, the sun was almost “cymbals of sunlight crashing on my forehead” as it was when recounted by Albert Camus in “l’Etranger”:

Because of that bright sun, the final image resulted almost monochrome, and hence was  a good candidate for a treatment in black and white.

The context

While this picture conveys an impression of remoteness, and distance, the context is a little bit different. Tai O is nowadays a big touristic destination. So, about 100 m behind, you have crowds of tourists making their way to another point of the island. The peacefulness of the scene is further sometimes disturbed by tour boats passing just in front of the fisherman. Obviously, I captured one of the peaceful moments, and apparently, no tourist paid attention to this fisherman.

A lesson out of this picture? Be on the lookout and generally look in other directions than most of the crowd. Your most interesting pictures will happen when your eyes look differently.

A black and white stroll in the city

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Black and white photography can be an interesting way of focusing the attention of the viewer on the most important elements of a scene.

This post is thus more of a stylistic exercise.

Here, you have an illustration on how B&W photos dim distractions that might crowd a picture when shot in color.

Black and white photography allows to dim distractions

The background of these photos are all filled with a number of colorful displays, lights and shops. Black and White puts the focus on the subjects at the heart of these pictures and allows to “erase” the distraction.

Obviously, when distractions are eliminated, then composition and focus becomes more important. In a city like Hong Kong, there is a wealth of people walking around

Actually, the areas around Mongkok are filled with street photography opportunities, as they are heavy circulation areas. In addition, there is still a lot of traditional activities going on (cart pushers, cardboard ladies, pretty girls going out…).

So, if ever you are feeling like trying your hand at street photography, just go and take a stroll in that area. I love going there on week-ends at night, but it will be the subject of another post.