The New Zealander Jonathan van Smit is a Hong Kong investment advisor by day, and an amateur Leica-toting street photographer by night. His portraits of urban dwellers evoke a gritty and unvarnished rendering of Hong Kong that is the underside of the city’s modernity, and plays with the classic dichotomy of bums and prostitutes existing in a metropolis chock full of skyscrapers.
Business Insider recently gave van Smit a chance to talk about his work:
“I know some Western expats who never eat Chinese food, and who rarely venture outside their expat communities. They’re here to make money not to experience a different culture. They live in a largely expat world, their kids go to international schools, their maids do the housework, cooking and shopping. I imagine that the more local parts of Hong Kong are completely alien to many of them.
Hong Kong is either heaven or hell depending on who you might ask. It has the world’s highest Gini score [a measure of inequality] with Singapore 2nd and the USA 3rd. Over in Kowloon you’ll find so-called ‘cage people’, residents living in cages or ultra small dwellings, barely able to make ends meet and end up begging in the busy streets or living off meager social assistance if they can get it. Food and rent are expensive so losing a job can be a matter of life and death.”
Though some tetchy academe might accuse van Smit of gallivanting around Hong Kong to do some socio-economic slumming with his Orientalist Masculine Gaze, we think the quality of his images puts any pedantic accusations to rest.
Below is a trailer of Fallen Angels, Wong Kar-wai’s 1995 ode to Wanchai starring Leon Lai and Karen Mok, which we think shares a kindred spirit with van Smit’s photography of Hong Kong’s underbelly.
Photos from Business Insider.