Hong Kong Inside

  • “A single image doesn’t tell you much, but seen as a collection, a pattern emerges to form a meaningful narrative.” This is the first sentence of the beautiful book ‘Hong Kong Inside’ by Michael Wolf. We can’t show all the images here, and I think Mr. Wolf won’t allow us to, after spending fourteen years living in Hong Kong to shoot these pictures. However, I totally agree with him when browsing through the book — it’s about the collection. ‘Hong Kong Inside’ is a brilliant piece of photographic observation. The book contains over 50 pictures of people living in the Hong Kong’s huge skyscraper neighborhoods. Wolf has set up his camera in each room at the same position in order to create a very interesting insight in Hong Kong’s real life.


    Although the book doesn’t contain much text or interpretation, it does contain some positions and statements. I consider it as an invitation to bloggers and book reviewers to dig those up. Real life goes on behind the facades of the massive amount of skyscrapers that lack any from of personality and identity. On a couple of square meters, complete families have to make a real life, which definitely won’t be always easy. All facilities that are needed to run a decent household, are packed together in one room.

    This inevitably leads to uniformity in lifestyle, as if the building style of the skyscraper requires people to live their life like this. There’s no room left for personal particularities, hobbies, design ambitions or crazy collections. The building style inevitably leads to a mess. At all pictures we find the same interior elements. Apparently every dweller in such an apartment needs an electric ventilator. Only 1 of the 50 pictures lacks one. When the thing is not hanging from the ceiling or standing on a table, a box in one of the cupboards is a sign of its presence. Less obviously, the rice cooker is an obliquity in a Hong Kong household.


    Interesting is the question that is implicitly asked in Wolf’s book. What will Hong Kong’s street life look like? When not having room to really live in your apartment, one would expect people to claim their part of public space. The restaurants must be loaded if no-one can cook at home, and public spaces must be crowded 24/7. I’m curious after what a neighborhood is worth in these communities. Will these skyscrapers work as small cities on their own? Will there be any social activity in the collective spaces of these buildings?

    To conclude, we’ve a cliff hanger. Tomorrow’s article on this blog will be about ‘Hong Kong Outside’, which describes the counter-side of a great photographical research.

    Hong Kong Inside/Outside (2009)
    Michael Wolf
    Peperoni Books
    2 books in a slopcase
    352 pages
    31 x 24 cm.