Exploring Hong Kong identity & culture through photography and works on paper
KC Kwan (Kwan Kam Cheong, born in Hong Kong 1977)
‘I’m not a photographer, I just like taking pictures.’
KC Kwan was the overall champion winner of the first Photo Book Award organized by Asia One in 2012. The book ‘Homebound’ was published as his award.
KC Kwan’s story is one of an insider. KC Kwan didn’t have the privilege to enjoy an expensive education, not even an amateur photography course. KC Kwan comes from a humble background. He never knew his father. His mum, a hawker, died when he was four, leaving KC and his twin brother behind. He struggled at school and started working at the age of 18 at a printing shop, an industry he is still involved with today.
About three years ago, he bought his first camera, a D3100 Nikon. For the first time it was cheap enough for him to buy and it was a trendy thing to do. After reading his first book on photography, a free copy given to him by his printing company, he started like most people with shooting flowers and landscapes. However he found it very boring and the book ended in the bin. He didn’t like hiking anyway.
Looking for more inspiration, he turned to the World Wide Web and discovered artists such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Frank. However, he wasn’t very fond of their straight and formalist style. Garry Winogrand was the first photographer that inspired him. There was something about his loose style, tilted frames and fascination for public life that was attractive. But it wasn’t until he bumped into a grainy black and white picture of a dog by Daido Moriyama when something struck a chord. He was drawn to the peculiar Japanese language that was so unlike its European or American counterparts, presenting a certain randomness that didn't stick to formal rules, which resonated with Kwan.
So a year later, he dumped his big camera (which tended to frighten his subjects anyway) and exchanged it for a smaller point-and-shoot Ricoh GXR. This is when KC Kwan started taking the night shots. Kwan's normal shifts are from 9pm to 6am, but sometimes he gets lucky and can leave earlier. After leaving the factory in Chai Wan, he normally takes the bus 118 to Sam Shui Po, has supper in Mongkok and then wonders the streets for hours looking for old neighborhoods. Since a night bus is a few dollars more expensive than the day one, he started out photographing just to kill time, until the first daytime bus begins operation again. What started out as a habit quickly grew to an obsession. On one particular day he walked so much his shoes fell apart.
For these night shots, photographers normally go out in groups but he prefers to work solo. He endured strange encounters and was once attacked by a mad man who scratched his face like a wild cat. But asking him if he ever fears the dark of night, he just shrugs his shoulders and replies a dry “no”. What makes him uncomfortable is not shooting for a few days. By now photography is part of him and the one thing in life that gives him some dignity. “In Hong Kong, if you have no degree, you are nothing.” he says. “Photography is a way the experience and see the cruel world. Cruelty is part of this world and our lives.”
However KC Kwan doesn’t want to be seen as a victim. “I have a poor life but I’m happy”. When asked: “So do you have any dreams and ambitions?” He stared and replied; “I’m a dried salted fish”. In Cantonese that’s a metaphor for someone that has no dreams, ambitions or concrete plans. “I just feel like I’m chasing something although I don’t know what that something is.’
There are many people with cameras, but there are very few photographers. Photography is about the way you feel the world. KC Kwan is a true gem capturing Hong Kong’s dark underbelly, not as an observer but as an insider. He is just a normal guy, like so many quiet workers in Hong Kong enduring the hardship of life. However KC Kwan has a special talent, a pure and genuine eye, which we were so lucky to discover and share with you.