Since the invitation to join in a “Hong Kong Walk” on November 14, 2009 with a group of street photographers I’d met on Flickr was first extended to me, I looked forward to the experience with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Excitement: because it would be the first time I had ever met really talented street photographers; and trepidation: for exactly the same reason. It was kind of like being invited to a karaoke bar by your favourite singing group. You desperately want to meet them; but you’re not all that comfortable about having to sing.
I have always preferred to be alone when going out on a shooting expedition. I try to shed my self-consciousness and sublimate myself to my environment; and it’s hard for me to do that when I’m with someone, talking to me, distracting me, reminding me that I exist. So walking the streets of Hong Kong with a gang of photographers was going to be a new experience in that respect. But it was the idea of actually having the opportunity to talk to the authors of the many outstanding images I’d seen on Flickr that really fired my excitement.
On the other hand, when you are alone, there is no one to judge you. You come home with what you have caught and no one else knows about the ones that got away, the opportunities you missed, the shots that didn’t work or that you bungled. So I was both excited and nervous; eager to for the opportunity, but afraid of being tested and found wanting.
Of the group, the first member I had encountered on Flickr was arndsan, known affectionately by the other HK photographers as “The Boss”. I had uploaded some shots from a family vacation in Japan late in 2008 and I noticed that he was uploading to some of the same Flickr groups. The first of his shots to really grab my attention was this one; and it made me realise that I had to look beyond the obvious and try to see the things that non-photographers often don’t see.
Through Arndsan, I encountered James Yeung. At the time, I was frustrated that none of my images uploaded to Flickr were making it to Explore, whilst James seemed to make the daily 500 with salutary regularity; so I wrote to him, asking him what the secret was, and he replied to me, directing me to an article explaining how Flickr arrived at its daily 500. As a result of this, we became contacts and have been exchanging comments ever since.
Through James’ photostream, I (tele)met Lincoln, goodbyebyesunday and Chris I Wong and became aware of the work of many other Hong Kong-based street photographers. Week after week I would be amazed by the skill, creativity and ingenuity of these people; so for me, the undoubted highlight of my vacation was going to be the opportunity it gave me to meet some of them in person. Walking into Starbucks in Alexandra House, that day, and seeing people I felt I knew but had never actually met gave me an amazing feeling; as though I was meeting photographic royalty. And later, walking through the old streets of Hong Kong with them, like a platoon of soldiers, all armed to the teeth with serious photographic weaponry, was nothing short of exhilarating. I felt proud and privileged to be a part of it.
But it was also a humbling experience. In Sydney, I am unaware of any group as active and enthusiastic as the Hong Kong photographers; and in one’s isolation, it is easy to become complacent, and to over-estimate one’s own ability. But being there, in the company of these people, and seeing later what they had been able to produce on the day, was a huge reality check for me.
I realised, for example, how dependent I had become on the strong, directional light you get in Sydney, pretty much throughout the year. In Hong Kong that day, the sky was overcast and the light was subtle and somewhat flat. Without that familiar spotlight to guide me, I struggled to see shots; and my D70 body and 18-200mm zoom struggled to cope with the low level of light. Yet my companions on the day managed to conjure up amazing results in the same conditions; and while I already had respect for their work on Flickr, I find now that I respect them even more, having been there with them on that occasion, knowing what they had to work with and seeing what they were able to produce.
I have created a gallery of the shots of theirs that I most admire from that day; but since I don’t consider myself qualified to judge them expertly, I have selected images on the basis that they particularly appeal to me. Since Flickr imposes an 18-image limit on its galleries, I have had to be very selective; and since the walkers have a penchant for photographing each other, I have created 4 more galleries dedicated to the Walkers themselves, as much for my own pleasure in remembering this occasion as for any other reason.
Once again, I’d like to thank the Hong Kong Walkers for their invitation to join them, their friendliness towards a stranger and their congeniality throughout the afternoon. And I want to thank Arndsan and James Yeung, in particular, for organising the expedition. It was an experience I will never forget.