‘I Love HK but Hate It at the Same Time’

Portraits of Hong Kong Identity

This project on Hong Kong began in Paterson, New Jersey. In 2016-2017, I was studying at the International Center for Photography and photographing the place I grew up. I wanted to find a way to connect with local gangs.

I began making portraits of people in Paterson and having the subjects write on the photos in order to tell more expressive stories about themselves and their community. Some of my portrait subjects are aspiring rappers, many others are not, and they all face adversity through various forms of oppression. In Paterson, oppression comes in the form of racism, violence, poverty, corruption, and addiction.

After graduating in 2017, I returned to Hong Kong, where I have now been living for around 13 years, and I continued the project here. Individually, the portraits and text may tell a simple story about daily life or address larger issues such as universal suffrage or inequality, but as a whole I hope they tell a nuanced story about Hong Kong and its people. The current political situation in Hong Kong has affected the direction of the project, pushing it to include how Hong Kong people feel about the receding of freedoms that in the past felt secure: freedom of the press and expression, the right to assembly and to participation in political affairs, and an independent judiciary.

Thus far, I have focused primarily on musicians, particularly members of the rap groups LMF and 24Herbs, and b-boys (breakdancers). But recently I added Josie Ho, a rock and punk singer and actress, and began including activists like Joshua Wong and Yau Wai-ching, who was expelled from Hong Kong’s Legislative Council because of the way she said the word “China” when taking her oath of office. As the project continues, I plan to include more young people who have been participants in recent demonstrations, and then broaden my focus to include other parts of Hong Kong society.

The process for making the photos is a collaboration. I suggest that people consider what they want to say about their lives and select a place significant to them as the setting for the portrait. I scout the location and attempt to create an image there that reflects the character of the person and the idea they want to communicate so that the text and the photograph work off of each other to enhance the final piece. The final step includes making the print in my studio and meeting with the participants so they can add their text to the print.

A central issue many of the Hong Kong people in my portraits are wrestling with is how to define an identity and being challenged in that pursuit by cultural, social, or political pressures. There is a lot of frustration and anger over the recent attempted implementation of an extradition law allowing people in Hong Kong to be tried in mainland China, and over alleged police brutality during subsequent protests. This is apparent in one particular portrait where a subject posed with a gun to their head.

Some artist-participants express frustration over familial pressure to conform to parental expectations in their professional lives. Some worry Hong Kong’s aesthetic is changing and housing is unaffordable. Others say they are troubled by Hong Kong’s materialism. What’s not expressed in the portraits but important to mention is that self-censorship is already affecting some artists I’ve met whose livelihoods rely on mainland China.

In a way, everyone is asking some version of the question of what it means to be from Hong Kong and what it will mean in the future.


TTS (Tang Tung Shing, right) and LYH (Lau Yue Hin, left), rappers in TPS (Tai Ping Shan), Bank of China building, Central, Hong Kong, June 1, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

(Fuck the police
Shut up, fake people)

(No China extradition)

(What is right and wrong?
Hong Kong seems glamorous from the outside, but how many people really understand the reality???
Without the lower-class, is the word “noble” still worth people’s envy?
Many people are labelled as useless, but are they really that useless???)





Young Hysan (Nile Sun), rapper, Aberdeen, Hong Kong, June 17, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

每人表面專心做自己嘅事 —
(For Hong Kong people, the hardest thing is to find peace of mind
On the surface, everyone is focused on their daily life—
Work, study, paying rent, socializing, taking care of their family. . .
But inside, we are all filled with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness and helplessness
No one sees a way out for our society)

(There is danger and there is opportunity)


Josie Ho, actress and lead vocalist of Josie and the Uni Boys, Jardine’s Lookout, Hong Kong, June 28, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

一百年前香港,是個英國值[殖]民地 ,這小島的街名很神秘,這些路名是舊時的功能名,為歷史保育,有意義,現以[已]被拆掉,疼惜的心,哀求關注朋友,多些守候
(100 years ago, Hong Kong was a British colony. The names of the streets on this small island are mysterious; these street names are from their previous functions. They are meaningful historic [relics], which now have been removed. Cherishing heart, begging for your attention, friend, more care)


Joshua Wong, activist and politician, Admiralty, Hong Kong, July 5, 2018. Written July 4, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

(Once, Beijing promised Hong Kong “One Country, Two Systems,” but it has become “One Country, 1.5 Systems” now. Under Xi Jinping’s rule our freedom has been eroding, but we will never give up because Hong Kong is our home. We deserve democracy and freedom. No one should have to flee their home out of fear.)


Ghost Style (Brandon Ho), of 24Herbs, Star Ferry Pier, Tsim Sha Tsui, Hong Kong, May 5, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

Less is More is Less . . . Live in Abundance All Stay Blessed.

Hong Kong, the 852 - URBAN SPRAWL FILLED with all types of humans. All levels of humans. One can feel the shift of ignorance AND “WOKE”. Living in ENVIRONMENTS AND SYSTEMS that are built to think for you. Information overload. Consume til cannibalization—and still keep eating. Existing in a profile, putting soul into A electronic device . . . not my choice. For whatever REASON W ARE “Here”. Make the best of this life. Evolve into a better human or higher. Understand the workings of “MIND” AND “HEART”. Universe is as is—“Flow”.


Red Pill. Nobody, from Nowhere, knows Nothing. To fight for Truth is a lie. Your eyes, nose, ears, tongue AND body is limited. But, is needed to ride this journey. 100% it’s all you. “FREE” yourself from yourself. Design Environments with higher “vibes”—grow your reality like growing a “GARDEN”. Be with your day ones and support each other. No intentions—exist in harmony in inner and outer worlds. Jedi exist . . . Be a “Jedi”.


道可道,非常道; 名可名,非常名。
(The Tao can be talked about, but it is not an ordinary Tao; the name can be named, but it is not an ordinary name.)


Tinny (Lo Ho Tin), b-boy in RDZ, Urban Council Centenary Garden, Hong Kong, April 16, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:


(My lung might be black but my heart is definitely not.

生於亂世 活在當下
(Born in chaos. Live at the moment. Peace of mind is the hardest to find.)

Reservoir Dawgz Represent



Eddie Chung, music producer, Tin Hau Temple Garden, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, May 9, 2019.

Transcription of handwriting:

The mind is turbulent. Its hard to ignore the shitty mess we are all in. Not just Hong Kong but all over the world. There is so much tension, so much terrible injustices, so much greed and unfairness. Some people can ignore it but I can’t. Whether you want it or not, information and dis-information pours into the brain. Whether you want to or not, you have to process all of it and it tiring. When our world can change on a tweet, its hard to not feel pessimistic. Keeping positive is a real skill.


Chef (Fung Chun Yin), artist, Fuk Loi Estate, Tsuen Wan, Hong Kong, June 28, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

(Believe in our wisdom
Don’t forget where we come from
The world belongs to us
Fuck hypocrisy
Keep motivated
Fight for the future)


Kit (Leung Wing Kit), of 24 Herbs and LMF, Mido Cafe, Yau Ma Tei, Hong Kong, May 15, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

(I believe in fate, I believe there is always a way out
I believe if we persist, we will make it
Each step is heavy on this long road
Though reality is cruel, we can only pray
What happens next, no one can tell, but all we can do now is just do it. )

Hong motherfucking Kong

(Whatever happens, I will still do it the same way, coz I got my own path.
Whatever happens, I will still do it the same way, coz I am what I am.
Do it! Do it!)


MC Yan/syan (Chan Kwong-yan), of LMF and graffiti artist, Fan Ling, Hong Kong, June 28, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

(Hong Kong is like a Time Machine Portal, human here fucking fall back from 1997 to 1984.)


Phat (Chan Wai Hung), of 24Herbs and LMF, Shuen Wan, Hong Kong, May 8, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

有無人可以話俾我知道 仲住得人嘅香港究竟去咗邊度? 得個做! 索性把心一橫呃政府綜援仲着數 我都想有咁厚面皮唯有繼續R撈做幾多搵幾多儲幾多都無?用 做幾多搵幾多儲幾多都無?用你間屋真係堅堅係衰到無人租 就好似你個IG鋪極相都無人follow 講到點四正點好根本睇唔到 我只睇到shit hole同隻打唔開嘅window 一步就到 喂你咪阻住條路 一劏12嘅玩法去死啦你要趁早 為咗錢乜都做有磚頭先叫王道 理得你瞓喺shit hole佢照戴金撈成舊水去食個把撚茶記 最乏味係 要受嗰班仆街氣 當正我臭四 貼錢買難受 佢照舊 理?你 啲物價指數貴撚到Fucking離曬地 仲猛咁叫你借貸買呀買呀根本係想你死 啲福利派呀派呀派曬俾 落嚟嗰百幾 我真係恭喜你呀!香港地 李嘉欣呢一句說話先至夠貼地做幾多搵幾多儲幾多都無?用 做幾多搵幾多儲幾多都無?用
(Can anyone tell me, where has the livable Hong Kong gone? Work means nothing. Might as well cheat and apply for government welfare. I wish I had that thick skin but I don’t. Therefore I still go beg for work. No matter how hard you work, how much you make and save, it fucking ends up in vain. Your house may be dope but unluckily no one rents it, just like your IG account, no matter how many photos you post, no one follows you. Can’t see the likes, all I can see is shit hole and an unopenable window. Hey don’t stand in my way. Dividing one apartment to 12, one step and that’s the size of it. You should go to hell as soon as possible. You do whatever for money. Property rules here. Who cares you sleep in the shit hole? They wear their gold Rolex as usual. Spend some $100 just for some fucking cha chaan teng food. The most annoying part is that you have to suck up shit from the jerks. They see me as dumbass. I am paying for the nuisance. They behave in the same way, ignoring you. Living expense is so expensive, fucking far off. We are told to take out loans to buy more and more. They just want us to die. Welfare is distributed, but only to the some 100 immigrants from the mainland. I really should congratulate you, Hong Kong! Lee Ka-yan [a Hong Kong actress] said this well. No matter how hard you work, how much you make and save, it fucking ends up in vain.)


JT (Kim Jin Tai), b-boy in RDZ, Urban Council Centenary Garden, Hong Kong, April 16, 2019.

Transcription of handwriting:

They’ve called me stubborn and they’ve called me crazy. I kept moving forward both when I was certain and when I was doubtful.
I know deep down at all times I had to walk my way and so I did and I still am on the way. From eatin fancy almost every day to lookin to McDonald’s for shelter to sippin Macallan at VIP spots to sleepin in a bedroom I can’t sit upright.
But I got the respect I wanted and I’m still movin forward for more. They all told me I couldn't. But I got what I came for.


Billy (Tsang Hing Yip), b-boy, Urban Council Centenary Garden, Hong Kong, April 16, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

(Music and dance have affected my whole life
I found a way to decompress)

人生不只返工瞓教 [覺]
(I got to know a bunch of brothers
I know what I want
Life isn’t just work and sleep)

(Live without regrets)


JBS (J Brian Siswojo), of 24Herbs and owner of 8FIVE2 skatepark and shop, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, May 9, 2019.

Transcription of handwriting:

From those unexposed - Who'll never [be] imposed - Stay true to who they be - Even though people opposed - And neva pose - Always keep it real and positive - Never wonder why we even need the negative - And if we did - Try to rewind to the time to re-find - That other brotherhood clan of another loyal kind - Reset da mind, to all the ones who paved the way - step aside and show respect in every way.


Conroy Chan, of 24Herbs, behind the Tin Hau Temple Garden, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, May 9, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

I came to HK to find my roots

(I met my wife
Laozi and Shennong [Divine Farmer, a mythological deity])


J Bo (Jason Bo), artist, Ma Wan, Hong Kong, May 14, 2019.

Transcription of handwriting:

Keepin it a hundred grand shit is real timeless
We be on the move pull up on them clean diamonds
steady roamin money over bish cuz we coldin
pablo escobar straight rollin.
Got ma jesus chain on coolin on the spot yeh we own it.
Got the models looking supa hot who we bonin.

I love hk but hate it at the same time.
Hk people are stress but put a poker face at the same time. This city is a beauty
Every time I see you I fall in love at the same time


Yau Wai-ching, former Legislative Council member, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong, May 21, 2018. Written June 27, 2019.

Transcription and translation of handwriting:

(I don’t consider myself carefree
I have no way to distinguish between sorrow and joy
Gains and losses pile up, layer upon layer
So there’s no need to also feel broken-hearted
Who among us isn’t missing something
Why did I part with the one I loved
And spend years and months with those I don’t
I can’t make my own choices in this life)

Zhaoyin Feng assisted with transcription and translation.