[Sponsored] Have you heard about what happens when you cross the Lo Wu Control Point over to mainland China? For most people, absolutely nothing.

However, according to lens-based artist Tse Chi Tak, this might not have always been the case—at least not in the minds of Hongkongers. His first photographic series, Hong Kong Faces, was born when he, as a young street photographer, set out to portray the Hong Kong beyond the world-famous skyline. The series made its debut in All That. Matters—the first of a two-part exhibition supported by the WMA Commission which follows the evolution of the Hongkonger identity over the past three decades.

Hong Kong Faces – [Left] A cleaner in a washroom of the Landmark. [Right] Grandpa and grandchild in the streets of Mong Kok. Photos: Tse Chi Tak.

Hong Kong Faces was largely created before the British transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, amid a politically-charged atmosphere. Yet, Tse shone the spotlight on a different subject: the underdogs. “I wasn’t looking to make an impact. I simply wanted to write their stories into the 1997 discourse,” Tse said of his subjects, who comprised labourers, blue-collar workers, and children.

By summoning scenes, objects and faces from the past through All That. Matters, Tse revived memories that have faded into the background, evoking love-hate emotions towards pre-1997 Hong Kong, and invoking forgotten thoughts. Tse, who has always been fascinated with the birth and cessation of thoughts at every moment, noted the sheer number of thoughts that came and went in his subjects’ minds during the production of his two-part series. “Things we don’t talk or think about don’t cease to exist. When we start paying attention to them, they inspire reflection.”

The All That. Matters exhibition.

Twenty years on, Tse finds himself in a Hong Kong that is evolving so swiftly, there is little room to adapt. Supported by the WMA Commission, the second chapter of Tse’s two-part exhibition, All That. Doesn’t, combines photography, videos and four installations to reconstruct personal and collective memories, and discourses on who we are in a time of transition. Recalling the “nerve-wracking” experience of crossing the Lo Wu border checkpoint in his youth, Tse noted that the present-day border, though still “sacred and authoritarian”, is no longer as ominous as it used to be. “You used to hear a lot of negative stuff about what happens when you cross the border, like getting arrested and having your organs harvested. It was a very Hong Kong thing to be afraid of crossing the border.”

Employing the motif of the border between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, Tse explores the Hongkonger identity today through All That. Doesn’t: “With the opening of more borders between Hong Kong and the mainland, lines are getting blurred—as are both identities.”

The All That Matters exhibition.

So, what has stayed the same? “Hongkongers still share the same sense of pragmatism, indifference and helplessness. We’re still trying to achieve our ideals—but they keep giving way to change. At the end of it, we’ll realise that our efforts don’t matter at all.”

Catch the second chapter of Tse’s exhibition, All That. Doesn’t, at the Exhibition Gallery, Hong Kong Central Library from 14 April 2018.


WMA Commission

As part of the WMA programme, the WMA Commission engages image makers to provide in-depth studies of an annual, socially relevant theme, and seeks to extend public interest locally and globally. Each year, the WMA Commission invites entries for proposals from artists and image makers to create new photo-based work in Hong Kong with a focus on the theme. The programme is a WYNG Foundation initiative.