Copyright © Johann Kwan

Hong Kong (and Macau) … again.


I’m getting deja-vu. About this time last year, I was in Hong Kong with a rangefinder and a 35mm lens. This year, I decide once again to bring nothing but a rangefinder and a 35mm lens on my trip back to see the old country.

Last year, I brought the Voigtlander Bessa-R with a Voigtlander 35mm f/2.8. It may be a Leica copy, but it was (until it broke) a fabulous camera in its own right, and had the distinction of being my first rangefinder to feed my rangefinder addiction (a bug I caught after handling my friend’s Leica for the first time years ago). This year though, I brought my new baby, my digital M with my 35mm f/1.4 Summilux.

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Why a 35mm? I’m pretty adamant that 35mm is the perfect focal length for shooting out and about. I, like most other photographers, grew up with the 50mm as the standard focal length. I’m still a big fan of a fast 50. It gives you a good deal of subject separation and at usual ranges (2-3 meters) gives you a solid portrait. However, what it does not do is give you enough context. The difference between 35mm and 50mm, for the most part, is about two steps further back from your subject. It brings in a lot more of the surrounding, gives you context. When you’re cramped for space (which is often the case in Hong Kong) those two steps make all the difference between getting your shot and not.

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A word about Hong Kong as a street photographer’s destination. It’s simultaneously amazing and absolutely dreadful. It’s filled to the brim with people, which means you have a lot of subject matter (though that subject matter is often hard to isolate from the sea of people), but people are shouty and often rude. I’m there often enough that I’m relatively used to it, but it’ll still throw me for a loop sometimes when people respond rudely to friendly hellos and a photo. Another thing is that everyone, and I do mean everyone, is a camera junkie. I think the only Japanese cities could possibly beat out Hong Kong in terms of camera nerdiness. As a result, absolutely everyone comments if you have interesting gear. Rangefinders, enough out of the ordinary, are considered interesting enough. A clerk at a market stall stopped me to ask if I was toting the new M. A man stopped, not even asking any questions, but just to stare while I was in the middle of a long exposure on the street. Sadly, right in the middle of my frame. Just a few examples of how extensive the camera craze is.

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I’m not particularly fond of the light in back being in the frame, but there wasn’t much of a choice, considering.

I got to see sides of Hong Kong this time around that I don’t normally see, by sheer virtue of the fact that I was staying outside the city in the New Territories. While I was closer to Shenzhen really than to Hong Kong proper, I was still within the greater Hong Kong area, and still commuted every day to dicker about in the city itself. It did mean, however, I got to spend a lot more time exploring little villages in the suburban/countryside bits of the city. Quite nice, really. Far more peaceful surroundings than I’m used to on my trips back to Hong Kong. It’s a lot easier to connect to the locals, get into their lives a little.

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The best cheong fun (rice noodle rolls) I’ve had ever.

Still, I made it into the city (an hour minimum commute by public transit) every day to see family, catch up with friends, and get onto the streets for some shooting. A find myself retreading a lot of the same territory I’ve tread before shooting in Hong Kong. Which isn’t a bad thing. There are new things to discover and new moments to capture each time.

It’s a different approach, shooting film and digital, even if they’re both rangefinders. Having to manually focus means I’m still qutie selective about my shooting, but not having to change film means a lot more versatility. I don’t have to think about using up my roll to change film speeds before nightfall. I can take a few exposures without worrying about having to find a place to restock film (though it’s easier to find film in Hong Kong than most other places), and I don’t have to choose between colour and black and white.

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I’m glad I maintain control over my exposure and my focus with my Leica, though. Or I think I’d start feeling the disconnect with my subjects that SLRs are prone to. The rangefinder experience keeps me quite aware of everything going on. It’s fantastic. And shooting in Hong Kong keeps those senses sharp.

All that said, I’m glad to be home. Hong Kong’s fun, but hefty smog and cramped spaces do little to endear me to the old country.

Scroll down for more photos, and stay tuned for more photos to come!

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The following are from Macau, a wholly different beast. Most people see the casinos, which are like Vegas, with way more sleaze. Sadly for Bond fans, the casino he goes to in Skyfall is entirely fictional, and the casinos that are there are more your typical Vegas-style copies. But it’s also just a place where people live like anyplace else. The old bits of town has relics and architectural remnants of its Portugese colonial past. I didn’t spend much time there this trip, just a pleasant afternoon.

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