Jason Au | A black and white image of man and a pigeon looking down over a foot bridge in Central Hong Kong

Focal Point: Jason Au on Hong Kong

Last updated: May 6, 2024

Starkly graphic, minimalist and almost meditative, Jason Au’s photography of Hong Kong casts the buzzing city in a completely different light

It’s Hong Kong as you’ve never seen it: the famously densely populated harbour city appears markedly serene and meditative in Jason Au’s images, which capture his subjects in contrast to graphic elements of their surroundings.

“Geometric Hong Kong is a black-and-white street photography series that depicts my creative vision of my hometown,” says Au. “It comes with a fine-art aesthetic and the compositional approach of isolating urban subjects, geometric elements and forms from the chaotic urban environment of Hong Kong.”

The photographer – whose work was recently shortlisted in the Sony World Photography Awards in the architecture and design category – strips back Hong Kong’s urban sprawl to its barest with his stark imagery. “Black-and-white has been my preferred medium of expression. I love to exploit geometric lines, light and shadows, and textures in my works, for which I think they are best manifested in monochrome without the distraction of colour,” Au explains of his process. “In most cases, I preferred working with a process known as the ‘fishermen approach’, which requires thoughtful thinking, planning and execution right at the scene.”

The dramatic contrast of shadow and light places Au’s subjects centre stage. One evocative image, captured on Sunday afternoon the first winter of the Covid-19 pandemic, depicts socially distanced groups of locals under the skylight of a shopping mall atrium. At the time, the Hong Kong government had enacted a law prohibiting group gatherings of more than four in public places – enforced in this photograph by a mall employee. It echoes a time when travel was restricted for so many globally, yet encouraging us to see our environment in a new light. This is one of the core messages of the ROADBOOK photo essay series Focal Point, which seeks to go beyond social-media-grid-influenced imagery and move towards storytelling.

Au cites Hong Kong street photographer Fan Ho (1931–2016) as an inspiration, having first encountered his work at an exhibition in 2017. Everyday scenes of his native Hong Kong have fascinated him ever since and Au seizes these fleeting ‘mundane’ moments with his camera – shooting these days with a Leica M10 Monochrom.

“These subjects look trapped and lost inside an artificial geometric labyrinth without realising it,” he continues. “Perhaps this series is also a metaphorical view of urbanity and the hectic contemporary way of life in a metropolis like Hong Kong.”

Jason Au | In Central Hong Kong, a person crosses a box junction in a hurry while still managing to speak on the phone
Jason Au | A dark-suited man on his phone crosses the road at the business heart of Hong Kong. His mid-stride motion juxtaposes with the white arrows marking on the roadJason Au | A perfectly timed moment captured at the iconic spiral staircase at Tai Kwun, a contemporary art centre in Hong Kong
Jason Au | In Hong Kong's Victoria Park, a very prominent L-shaped marking on a football pitch is pointing towards a relaxed guy lying at the centre circle
Jason Au | In Hong Kong's Tsuen Wan, groups of Hongkongers are sitting under a shopping mall atrium during the Covid-19 pandemic, sitting alone or in pairs. The walking man is an officer enforcing the 1.5m minimum social distancing rule.

Jason Au | In Hong Kong's cultural centre, light spilling into a corridor resembles a tunnel-vision effect, with a scooter kid skating across.
Jason Au | A photo of a triangle architectural element on a gridded building facade in Hong KongJason Au | A man stands next to the window at Hong Kong ferry pier. His figure is side lit by a beam of late afternoon light.

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