Picture of the Week 33

Take-off, Sai Ying Pun – July 2017


Public Art

Lai Tak Tsuen Estate, Tin Hau.

Hong Kongers love to take photographs. That is a given and indisputable truth. And while many of these photos involve posing next to bizarre installations in shopping malls (the one near my work currently has a ‘Glamping’ installation where people can lounge across a fake campsite), there are many more interesting places in this city to snap.

5 of the 10 best Instagram spots in Hong Kong are actually public housing estates and, while I normally scoff at the cult of the Instagrammer (mainly because I lack both the patience and the finesse to be any good at photography) I spent last weekend having a gander at 3 of the most famous…

Public Housing in Hong Kong, as with any kind of living space in this city, needs to cram as many people into as small a space as possible. And while there are plenty of dull, depressing estates around the place, there are a few gems, such as Lai Tak Tsuen. Opened in 1976, it is – you’ll be fascinated to hear – Hong Kong’s only bicylindrical public housing. Now, I know next to nothing about architecture, but surely building square towers would be a lot simpler than building cylindrical ones, no? Luckily for us this particular architect persevered: the design won awards in the ’70s and allows for photos like this (looking up from the ground floor):

…and this (looking down from the 14th floor). I felt a little queazy I have to admit, whether from the height and low barrier, or the hypnotising spirals, I don’t know. We were heading towards the 24th floor, right at the top, before a security guard advised us to move along, probably bored that his weekend shift was yet again interrupted by amateur photographers.

Through the lattice work around the exterior walls you can glimpse the harbour, Kowloon and the ICC in the background.

Earlier that day we had been to Pink Shek Estate, built in 1970, where you can get photos with a similar effect, this time in a very stark, very Cubist kind of way. I was left a little disappointed that we missed being there in a downpour by ten minutes or so – imagine standing in the middle of that hole as rain pours in – but the tiled floor was sodden and the balconies running around the sides dripped as we took the photos.

Ping Shek Estate, Choi Hung.

And then there’s perhaps the most famous housing estate in Hong Kong, just next door to Ping Shek. One of the oldest estates in the city – dating from 1962 – and once the largest housing estate in the world, Choi Hung (or ‘Rainbow’) Estate lives up to its name with different coloured panels running along the outside of every floor. The palm trees lining the basketball court lend a bizarre, Californian-pastel vibe to what is a densely populated (it’s apparently home to 40000 people) in one of the more deprived areas of Hong Kong.

Which brings us on to the moral dilemma of this particular story: the ethics of well-heeled students and young professionals trawling around public housing estates, home – let’s be honest – to some very poor people, looking for the perfect Instagram shot. While they aren’t taking pictures of the residents shuffling in and out, for some kind of weird anthropological exhibition, and while the buildings are undeniably eye-catching and historical (Hong Kong standards dictate that any building over 30 years old is a historical monument), it didn’t sit right with me.

Residents were coming and going as we took our pictures and I half expected them to tell us where to go. But none did. And who knows – maybe the other people taking photos last weekend (and we weren’t alone in any of these spots) lived in similarly deprived but less photogenic tower blocks? It is a very Hong Kong thing, after all, turning overcrowding and deprivation into art, making the most of this tiny territory’s space and resources. But should it be used as means to boost your Instagram likes…?

If you like half-hearted and somewhat rushed photography, not exclusively involving public housing estates, follow me on Instagram at whatididinhongkong. I can assure you that I am 100% #nofilter.