Rufina Wu & Stefan Canham Project Statement Biography

Project Statement

Facing skyrocketing property prices and rents in Hong Kong, most low-income families left out of the public-housing network can only afford to live in either 100 sq. ft. subdivided flats, 20 sq. ft. ‘caged homes’ and ‘coffin rooms’, or steaming-hot, illegal rooftop flats.

To pay for their substandard living environment, these underprivileged families – with average household income of less than HK$8,000 – must spend more than half their earnings on rent. Not only does this restrict their budget for food and toys for their children, these families also have to live with serious safety hazards such as potential fire threats cause by overloaded electricity wiring amongst subdivided units, blockage of rear fire escape staircases and poor hygienic conditions.


Ko Chung Ming is a Hong Kong-based photojournalist with 11 years experience. His focus is on photographic stories, profile interviews, and features. He has covered a specialist eye hospital in Columbia that helps slum-area children throughout the country, the devastating floods in Thailand that swept away auto and electronic factories near Bangkok in 2001, the rapid desertification of Inner Mongolia, China posing a severe threat to the livelihood of its various ethnic inhabitants, and the PM 2.5 air pollution monitoring controversy in Beijing.

Over the years, Ko Chung Ming has received a number of photojournalism awards, including 1st prize Hong Kong Press Photographers Association – Focus at the Frontline 2007, People category and 1st prize in the Focus at the Frontline 2002, Features category. He participated in ‘Art Chat on Harbour’, a exhibition featuring Hong Kong and China artists at the Cattle Depot in 2004.

Project Statement

There is no elevator. We walk up the eight flights of stairs, hesitating on the last one, looking at each other, out of breath: we have no right to be here.

The roof is a maze of corridors, narrow passageways between huts built of sheet metal, wood, brick and plastics. There are steps and ladders leading up to a second level of huts. We get lost. Our leaflets in hand, Rufina knocks on a door. There is an exchange in Cantonese. Stefan stands in the background, the foreigner, smiling, not understanding a word. They hear us out, smile back and invite us into their homes.

Later, we look down at the building from a higher one across the street. The roof is huge, like a village. There must be thirty or forty households on it. From the outside there is no way of knowing what is inside. Whether they have Internet or not. Whether they have a toilet. And there is no way of knowing their stories.

Who makes a picture of this? Who keeps a record? Sometimes a newspaper will print an article, or an NGO will launch a campaign. Various government departments keep files on so-called “unauthorized building works”, coding the huts with permanent markers and photographing them. The files are not on public record, but residents may look at them to learn why their homes are to be demolished. Very rarely do rooftop residents document their own spaces: the family pictures we saw were taken standing in a field of sunflowers, or in a village in the mainland, or down on the street beside someone else’s car, smiling.

We walk up the stairs again. We no longer get lost in the corridors. We learn how residents modify and maintain their homes. There are people who have been living on the roof for twenty or thirty years who have helped to build the city. The new immigrants from Mainland China, from Southeast Asia, from Pakistan, continue to do so. In the seventies, they built the underground, and now they are working on the new tower blocks. Hong Kong’s older districts are being redeveloped. Some buildings are crumbling because they were built with salt water concrete. Others have to make way for taller ones that yield higher profits. Few rooftop residents would mind living in the new towers, but they cannot afford it. All are afraid of being resettled to the remote satellite towns, where there may be few opportunities and limited social networks.

We walk up the stairs again. The rooftop settlements are an urban legacy, telling the story of Hong Kong, of political upheavals in Mainland China, of urban redevelopment, of people’s hopes and their needs in the city.


Rufina Wu was born in Hong Kong in 1980. She studied at the University of Waterloo in Canada where she completed degrees in Environmental Studies and Architecture. She was a CCSEP Visiting Scholar at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China from 2005 to 2006. Beijing Underground, her graduate thesis, focuses on migrant housing found in Beijing’s underground air raid shelters. This body of research won an AIA Medal and was exhibited in Canada, United States, and Germany. From December 2007 to February 2008, she was artist-in-residence at Hong Kong’s Art and Culture Outreach, collaborating with Stefan Canham on Portraits from Above. The project won the 5th International Bauhaus Award 2008 and was published by Peperoni Books, Berlin, and MCCM Creations, Hong Kong. It has been exhibited in Asia, Europe, and North America, including solo exhibitions at Goethe–Institut and Lumenvisum Gallery (Hong Kong, 2009), Kunsthaus (Hamburg, 2009), and Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, 2010). Her research interest focuses on informal housing tactics associated with rapid urban development and population mobility. Rufina currently lives in Vancouver. Stefan Canham was born in England in 1968. He studied Film at Hamburg Academy of Fine Arts, Germany, and has been working free-lance on documentary photo and television projects since 1995. He is interested in the amazing and beautiful things people create even under adverse circumstances, and in their photographic representation. In 2003 he was artist-in-residence at the Schleswig-Holsteinisches Künstlerhaus in Eckernförde, Germany. His photographic record of the mobile squatter culture in Germany was short-listed for the 3rd International Bauhaus Award 2004 and published under the title Bauwagen / Mobile Squatters by Peperoni Books (Berlin) in 2006. He has exhibited in Germany and abroad and contributed to journals like An Architektur (Berlin), Critical Planning (Los Angeles), Sarai Reader (Delhi), MONU Magazine on Urbanism (Rotterdam) and Arhitext (Bucharest). From December 2007 to February 2008, he was artist-in-residence at Hong Kong’s Art and Culture Outreach, collaborating with Rufina Wu on Portraits from Above. The project won the 5th International Bauhaus Award 2008 and was published by Peperoni Books, Berlin, and MCCM Creations, Hong Kong. It has been exhibited in Asia, Europe, and North America, including solo exhibitions at Goethe–Institut and Lumenvisum Gallery (Hong Kong, 2009), Kunsthaus (Hamburg, 2009), and Harbourfront Centre (Toronto, 2010). Substantial parts of the project have been presented in themed exhibitions, including Informal Cities at the Coomaraswamy Hall, (Mumbai 2009), Breda Photo (Breda, 2010), High-Rise – Idea and Reality at Museum für Gestaltung (Zurich, 2010), Rapid Change at Te Tuhi Centre for the Arts (Auckland, 2011), and The City that does not exist at Museum Ludwig Forum (Aachen, 2012). Numerous magazines have published excerpts of Portraits from Above, including European Photography


Katherine Chan Sim-Kuen Project Statement Biography
Chan Wai Kwong Project Statement Biography

Project Statement

Considering the subject of poverty, I grew up in a poor family and therefore I have first-hand experience on how life is without money. Articles or objects that were considered extras, or that were left behind by other people, were treated as treasure by us. As I grew up, I developed an appreciation for the patience of cleaners. Their job is regarded by society as lowly, but it is a very, very important job. If it not were for those unsung heroes, it would be difficult to imagine what Hong Kong would be like. In my project, I want to understand more about the working poor’s jobs through their office spaces and in their rest areas in order to record the truth about their treatment. To illustrate how they are ignored by society, but worthy of respect. So that viewers will think about issues of giving and receiving, and reflect on treasuring what we have – respect and equality.


Katherine Chan Sim-Kuen received her Diploma in Design – Visual Communication at the Lee Wai Lee Technical Institute in 1995. She then graduated with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Photographic Design from the Hong Kong Polytechnic University in 1998 and with a Master of Fine Arts in Media Design and Technology from the City University of Hong Kong in 2007. Katherine’s works have been showcased in the United Kingdom, Japan, China and Hong Kong, and she has participated in several exhibitions and screenings, including “APO – 12 Oil Street: Casting I Online Exhibition & ART HK12” (2012), “Young Portfolio – Photographs by the Next Generation” Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Japan (2003), “The Royal Photographic Society’s 146th International Print Exhibition” (2003-04), the public screening of the “19 Lives through 19 Eyes” documentaries (2004) and “The 2nd BBU International Student Film, Television & New Media Works Exhibition” Award Screening (2004). She has received the Silver Award at the Hong Kong Institute of Professional Photographers (HKIPP) Awards in 1999 and the Bronze Award in 2001. The Silver Medal given by the Royal Photographic Society in Britain (2003) and the Outstanding Documentary Award at the Second BBU – International Student Film, Television & New Media Works Exhibition in Beijing, China (2004). Katherine’s works are collected by the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts in Japan, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and several private collectors.

Project Statement

If the use of the word ‘poverty’ is meant to be understood as ‘absolute poverty’, then there may not be that many ‘poor people’ in Hong Kong. This kind of narrow interpretation differs from the social reality of Hong Kong today. To understand Hong Kong’s ‘poverty problem’, first we must clarify the definition of poverty.

The Gini index in Hong Kong is amongst the top five in the world, which means there is a serious gap between the rich and the poor. All shades of unfair social phenomena – such as educational favouritism, monopolies, real estate hegemony, difficulties facing the elderly and new immigrants, etc. – all contribute to the growth of poverty.

‘Poverty’ as a social phenomenon, and as an issue, is difficult to summarize in a few photos. In this age of ‘knowledge economy’, good education is the key to helping our next generation ‘move upward’ and escape poverty. To fundamentally address and solve the problem of poverty in Hong Kong, the government must focus on reforming the existing educational system. Hence, in this series I consider, reflect and focus on the problems in the educational system.

Hong Kong has been promoting ‘elitism’, turning quality education into talent education. The government’s main focus is on the high- reputation schools and the graduating elite. The emergence of private schools has created an atmosphere of discrimination and segregation amongst schools and students. The government has forgotten that education is fundamentally democratic – for every student. Each student, whether elite or ordinary, rich or poor, should be treated equally.

Government authorities have launched, numerous times, large scale poverty relief measures, but have never addressed poverty alleviation through education. For children of poor families, education is a way to help them get out of the poverty cycle. The government should conduct a comprehensive review of the current outdated educational system, break away from elitism and a single directional teaching model, so that all children can receive quality education.

This work is ongoing as I consider other contributory social problems in order to create a more complete series of photographs that explore poverty in Hong Kong.


M.C. (Michael Chan) is a local born Hong Kong artist. He began his career as a professional photographer and photographic artist in 2005. M.C. received a Bachelor of Arts (Fine Art) in Photography at Hong Kong Art School / RMIT University. In 2011, he had a solo exhibition ‘Life and Living’ at the Pingyao International Photography Festival in China. M.C.’s series ‘Elite’ was presented by the Hong Kong Arts School at the International Education Forum & Expo 2011. In 2013, M.C. is one of the finalists of the Hasselblad Masters 2014 and Three Shadows Photography Award 2013.

“The things I want to express are so beautiful and pure.” — Maurits Cornelis Escher.

Based on this belief, I started my life in photography. My works are a reflection of my opinions and my feelings towards this society.

Project Statement

“To record” is fundamental to a photographer. I’m merely recording things around me. As far as the intent, content or connotation of the photograph is concerned, it shall be interpreted by the viewer.


Chan Wai Kwong was born in Hong Kong in 1976. He left school at an early age and began to explore his creative side. To date Chan has self-published seven photography books including ‘The Moment’, ‘Wanchai’, ‘Ah~’, ‘Pingyao’, ‘Tokyo 1’, ‘Ting Ting’ and ‘Tenderness of a 19 yr Girl’. In 2011, he held a pop-up solo exhibition in his home titled ‘ Chan Wai Kwong Photo Exhibition’, filling every wall in the flat with his black and white portrait and street photography. His solo exhibition ‘Tenderness of a 19 yr Girl’ was held at 100ft. Park Hong Kong in 2012. Chan has participated in group exhibitions in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Pingyao, China.

Project Statement

This body of work explores a simple question: What does it mean to be poor?

It is not an emotional statement. It is an examination of the choices one faces living at the poverty line. I work with an economist, Lin Hui-Yi, to ensure factual and statistical consistency. We have documented this project in 16 countries – including Hong Kong – across six continents. We are not trying to compare different countries’ poverty, but rather to have a starting point to understand poverty within a country’s context. For developed countries, where there is relatively updated household consumption data, we focus on the average daily amount that a person at the poverty line would spend on food.

One frame. One person. One day.

Everything else is left up to interpretation.

HKD $44.96 (USD $5.77, EUR£4.01) for food. This is based on a per capita per-day basis of a poverty indicator for Hong Kong (half of the median average household income), and low-income household food expenditure. Hong Kong currently does not have an official poverty line, but this is expected to come into place under the Commission on Poverty which was newly re-established in December 2012. There is presently, however, an official poverty analysis framework uses a multi-dimensional approach to monitor 24 poverty indicators, which includes educational and child social support rates in addition to income indicators. Poverty indicator statistics are mainly collected by the Census and Statistics Department through the General Household Survey and the Social Welfare Department. Poverty and social welfare issues are monitored and championed by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, which is the overall coordinating body for social service NGOs in Hong Kong. Note: Latest available standards and exchange rates were taken as of July 2011, when the photography was undertaken.


The crux of Chow and Lin’s practice lies in their methodology of statistical, mathematical and computational techniques to address global issues since 2009. Through a typological, photographic approach, Chow and Lin’s projects are driven by the discursive backgrounds in economics, public policy, media, and these are further augmented by enduring exchanges with specialists from those fields. 

Their works have been referenced by the World Bank and showcased at the Triennale di Milano; United Nations ESCAP, Bangkok; Lianzhou Foto; Les Nuits Photographiques, Paris; China Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum; Gexto Photo; Hermitage Museum, Saint-Petersberg; Myanm/art gallery,Yangon; Museum of Modern Art, Tblisi and National University of Singapore Museum. 

Their works are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, China Central Academy of Fine Arts Museum, Beijing and Thessaloniki Museum of Photography. 

Chow and Lin are based in Beijing, China. 

Stefen Chow is a Malaysian-born, Singapore-raised visual artist. His work has been awarded by Tokyo Type Director’s Club, World Press Photo, National Geographic and has worked with institutions including Smithsonian Magazine, GEO, Science and Nature.

Huiyi Lin is an economist by training and is a market researcher. She has a background in economic policy, and obtained an MBA from the Tsinghua University – MIT Sloan School International MBA Program. She has planned and implemented corporate development programs in Singapore and is currently based in Beijing, conducting multi-industry market research for a multinational clientele. She is passionate about solutions that make social, environmental, and commercial sense. 

Project Statement

Like many other districts in Hong Kong, North Point, the area that is the focus of this project, is experiencing rapid change and gentrification. Luxury apartments and new retail chain stores are sprouting up amid the decades-old buildings and traditional shops in what has been a predominantly working-class neighbourhood. Rising rents and constant redevelopment are pushing long-term residents out of places like Kai Yuen Lane, which was photographed for the project. North Point has always attracted migrants – affluent Shanghainese in the 1950s, Fujianese with ties to Southeast Asia from the ’60s onwards. It now attracts a range of new migrants from China, as well as expatriates. New arrivals, decades-long residents, the poor, blue collar workers, middle-class families and expatriates all live side-by-side in towering blocks like those we see all over urban Hong Kong. Like many older mixed-use neighbourhoods around the city — Causeway Bay, Mongkok or Sai Ying Pun — North Point is characterised by high-rise apartment blocks haphazardly built next to office towers and old walk-up buildings. The outside appearance of buildings doesn’t tell us much about what is inside. Changing economic realities mean blocks are constantly reconfigured into large multigenerational flats, smaller single-family flats, or subdivided cubicle flats. The project “North Point” examines this changing district, and its history of migration, through the personal lives and homes of its inhabitants. Looking at how family spaces, personal spaces, and communal spaces define and are defined by the economic and social environment, the work highlights how people deal with the increasing price and difficulties of living in Hong Kong.


Wei Leng Tay’s (b.1978, Singapore) practice examines how people’s relationships, priorities, and ways of life are shaped by the socio-political landscape of the places they live in. She has exhibited with organisations such as the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Japan, the Selasar Sunaryo Art Space, Indonesia, the National Museum of Singapore, Chulalongkorn University Art Center, Bangkok, and the NUS Museum, Singapore. She has also participated in festivals such as the Noorderlicht International Photography Festival, The Netherlands, the International Photography Festival of Rome, the F/Stop International Photography Festival in Leipzig, PhotoEspana and the Delhi Photo Festival. Her work is collected by museums such as the Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts, Japan, the Hong Kong Heritage Museum and the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum.