After the family dinner, instead of heading straight for the elevator, he made a 180 degree turn and headed up the stairwell, a less frequented path in the building. In the faded pink neon light, he changed pants and shirt for a skirt and reached for the lipstick deep inside his bag.
Having inherited the realist lens, sensitive composition and dramatic tension created by body language from Nan Goldin, Ka-man Tse’s photographic world captures Hong Kong’s incongruent colors and unyielding sunlight, amidst the violence of its overdevelopment. Unlike Goldin, the most moving part of these stills are not in their intimacy (between the photographer and the photographed, among the photographed), but in the distance. In the world’s most congested city, amidst the forgotten public, a wasteland of trash, abandoned paths and locked closets, sexual minorities keep to the narrow and minute distance, enough to maintain a constant safe space and solace. This is a distance between the photographer and her subjects, the subjects and the city, and the photographer in the city, the gazer and the gazed, between me and you and him and her, between the selves within us, the self before and after makeup, before and after bodybuilding, between each and every one of us. Each of these selves thrives in these narrow distances between and within each other; each in their own visual narratives, their stories and distances reveal a versatile and fluid mobility.
Through photography, one might discover a “different” Hong Kong, one that despite birth or length of stay is not as known or recognized. In this incandescent city, tens of thousands of people, emotionally segregated due to their sexual difference, carry closets close to heart in families, schools, and offices on the lookout for survival or just temporary parking space. They walk past you and me in subway stations, in the alleyways behind tea houses, inhaling on a cigarette outside the coffee shop, tending to plants atop your apartment building, soaking up the sun on the grass in the park. Faced with the camera lens, some will need to look away while others will keep a distance, the better to survive. This is not due to lack of courage, quite the contrary, looking away, or keeping a distance as self-representation shows us the courage, willpower and patience of everyday negotiations in and with this city. We live in violence, and we live. Each one of us navigates the public spaces of this city as an undercover spy, these photographs show up and critique the not-public/non-just and no-space of Hong Kong.
The violence against sexual minorities of public space in Hong Kong, in contrast to the street and police violence of many American cities, seems more an exclusivist violence of the city’s publicness being completely dominated by colonial capitalism. Public space is fetish, commodity and sign; it cannot afford public homely use, least of all to those invisible in families, those queer bodies abject in their own homes, without a place of their own. In this photographic series, sexual identity is defined by people in (relation to) space. It is not fixed or immutable; neither coming out nor marriage, nor being seen in public constitutes adequate recognition. People in places accentuate the material importance of contexts; these photographs complicate our understanding of identity politics and enrich our understanding of love and hate, of space and, of this city.
Born in Hong Kong, Yau Ching received her BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Hong Kong, PhD in Media Arts from Royal Holloway College, University of London, and was a Rockefeller Postdoctoral Humanities Fellow at the University of Hawai’i. She also studied Studio Art at the Whitney Independent Study Program in New York. Currently Adjunct Professor at Chinese University of Hong Kong, she has taught at the University of Hong Kong, Lingnan University, National Chengchi University in Taiwan and University of Michigan. Her art works have been invited to venues including Alexanderplatz Station of the Berlin Underground, Robert Flaherty International Film Seminars, Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, Galarie nationale du Jeu de Paume in Paris, and Museum of Modern Art in New York, among others.