#OccupyHongKong documents the Occupy Central demonstrations during the October National Holiday of 2014. Shot at the protest sites of Mong Kok in Kowloon and Admiralty on Hong Kong island, the series depicts a variety of events including clashes between civilians and students, dense public rallies, and night-time vigils. It attempts to record the diversity of groups involved: the ardent convictions of young demonstrators, heated reactions of local bystanders, and the tentative impartiality of policemen and women. Their multiplicity of sentiments is testament to the complexity of Hong Kong’s political status and range of social issues being contended.
As a former British colony, Hong Kong returned to law under China in 1997 within the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ policy. A constitution known as the Hong Kong Basic Law is currently in effect whereby the territory maintains an independent judiciary, and residents are permitted broader civil freedoms than in mainland China. A decision by the central Chinese legislature in August to install limits on the nominations for the city’s 2017 leadership election led to wide-spread protests spearheaded by students but drawing support from a broad range of citizens.
Shot on assignment for Matter, (Some True Information is Impossible to Censor) the dispatch developed through an intense series of encounters. Working from a tenth-floor apartment located directly above the stretch of Nathan Road at the Mong Kok occupation, the series marked my first immersion in breaking news photojournalism. The continuously unfolding events provoked me to engage with scenes in a more immediate way than the considered vantage point of my long-term projects. Often reported in simplified terms as a clash between the pro-democratic fervour of students and the firm refusal of local authorities to negotiate, my experiences from the street revealed a wider – and often paradoxical – range of sentiments.
Pro-democratic residents frustrated with the disruption of their neighbourhood, the visible strain of young police officers lacking experience in crowd control, the deep-rooted suspicions of students towards hired pro-Beijing bystanders. Conviction, resentment, camaraderie, solitude, ignorance, humility – as it continues to operate in the space between witnessing and portraying, I find that photography’s capacity to absorb contradictions remains compelling.
Audio Interview from slideshow above:
The demonstrations have attracted people like Chen Ankun, who arrived in Mong Kok early on Sunday from Guangdong province. A thin, amiable man with a thick country accent and an overgrown crew cut, he works as a traditional doctor in a village outside the city of Shantou. “I support the masses!” he announces to a group assembled around him shortly after arriving. “Hong Kong wants to pick its government. I understand!”
A Hong Kong TV crew moves in to interview him. A reporter asks in Mandarin if he has brought other villagers with him. “I am the first,” he says. But he offers that he belongs to an online forum on which mainlanders discuss democracy. That’s where he heard about the scale of the Hong Kong protests. “Some true information is impossible to censor,” he tells me later.
“If Hong Kong becomes like China,” he reflects, “then it’s a real problem for freedom.” He is wide-eyed and giddy; his excitement is contagious. “I just got here,” he says. “I haven’t even eaten anything!”
[Recording courtesy of Mara Hvistendahl]