LEONG KA TAIThe best decision I have made in my life was to quit my job as an engineer in England and go to Paris to learn photography, even though I spoke hardly a word of the language and knew nobody there. But I managed to learn enough French to get by and find a photographer who hired me as assistant. It gave me an opportunity to observe and study the technical side of photography, as well develop the creative side on my own. After three years I returned to Hong Kong and started my own studio.
The second best decision was when, after six years, I found commercial studio work too restrictive. I stopped the studio and turned to traveling. At the time, the Chinese mainland was opening up. Having been brought up studying both Chinese and English culture, I felt a special affinity to the people and culture in the mainland, and started to explore the differences and similarities between what I have learned and what I observed. After a while, magazine assignments started coming in. I have worked on stories for magazines such as National Geographic, New York Times, GEO, and Stern. These just gave me more opportunities and incentives to observe and explore.
In the 1990’s, China started its mad gold rush and I travelled there less often. I was also looking for an alternative to mere documentary story-telling, which dictated that each photograph be meaningful and pictorially interesting. I started to experiment with movement and blurriness using a cheap plastic panoramic camera. This resulted in a series which I call “Moving Horizon”. This was a departure into abstraction. A liberating experiment.
Also, I came to the realisation that I have turned my attention away from Hong Kong, where I was born and raised, for too long. But instead of photographing the aspects that everybody knows about, I concentrated on people and places that has escaped the attention of the population. This culminated in two projects: “City Heroes”, highlighting the achievements of ordinary people – those who worked hard to perform special deeds, who helped the less fortunate without asking for rewards, and those who overcome adversity. The other project is “Hong Kong From The Back”, which shows places in the city tucked into back lanes and out of the way corners, that faced demolition and redevelopment.
My most recent project goes into the realm of multi-media. “Over The Ocean, On The Road” is an exploration in random and slow communication, an antithesis to the instantaneous, but so often tenuous and ephemeral, connections in this digital age, and the experience of traveling slowly, without a fixed schedule. It consists of videos, time-lapse and photographs.
Over forty years have passed since I took up the camera. It has opened my eyes and honed my vision. It has opened many doors for me. With it, I have experienced places and people I would never have been able to see and meet. I consider myself extremely fortunate to be a photographer.
I am looking forward to whatever the future brings.