In his series “Hongkongers,” London-based photographer Oleg Tolstoy has captured the people of Hong Kong holding umbrellas, an everyday item which also featured at pro-democracy protests and became symbolic of passive resistance in turbulent times.

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

Tolstoy took to the streets to photograph ordinary lives in an extraordinary political climate. His latest series was shot on Queens Road Central, where pedestrians shield themselves from the rain with umbrellas, in what he calls a potent symbol of protection from both nature and nation.

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

“The images cried out to be adapted to reflect the changing landscape,” said Tolstoy. “I cut and reconfigured the photographs, experimenting with scratch techniques and red paint to recontextualise the series. The images now document a distorted reality.”

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

While editing the project during lockdown, Hong Kong’s political climate heated up with Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping national security law.

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

“The transmuted photographs offer a study of change. Red, the national colour representing fire and good fortune, now saturates every scene, reframing the lives and landscapes of the subjects,” the photographer wrote in a statement accompanying the series.

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

“Fragmented distortions echo the reshaping of Hong Kong’s autonomy and civil liberties, while thin scratches in the surface symbolise an accumulation of stress, cracks in an increasingly pressured situation reaching its breaking point.” 

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

As resistance became increasingly futile, Tolstoy says he sought to reflect this new reality by changing the context of a series of images shot at a literal and figurative crossroads in Hong Kong’s history.

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

“As the subjects go about their lives, echoes of the political movement are inescapable,” he said.

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

“There is a tension simmering underneath these everyday scenes which has been brought to the surface.”

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

Although based in London, Tolstoy shoots mainly in high-density environments around the world. Asia has become his main focus due to its mega cities such as Hong Kong,Tokyo, Shenzhen and those in Vietnam.

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

The series has been conceptualised and created in collaboration with Rob Watts from Hong Kong.

Find more of Tolstoy’s work on Instagram.

Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.
Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.
Photo: Oleg Tolstoy.

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