For Jeremy Cheung, photography is a way of capturing Hong Kong’s history and stories through a unique perspective. Over the last 10 years, the passionate artist has made photographs that showcase the city’s dynamism by juxtaposing its residents’ daily lives with their dense urban environment.
Now, the researcher turned photographer has won international acclaim for his intriguing images and regularly works with brands like Canon, Chanel, and National Geographic. We speak to Jeremy about his photographic process and why he’s so determined to immortalize Hong Kong’s ever-changing persona.
Bamboo Scenes Photography Artist Jeremy Cheung - Sai Wan, Hong Kong
What was your first camera? Which camera would you suggest for photographers that are just starting out?
If I remember correctly, my first camera was a point-and-shoot Olympus film camera which I got when I was in high school. I used it mainly to document my days at school, before graduation. Now, technology has advanced a lot and everyone has a mobile phone.
It’s always good to begin with something you have readily at hand, so I think mobile photography is the best way to start out. There’s no need to make things complicated. Just get into the groove of shooting and have fun!
What editing software do you like to use? Do you have any quick tips for editing photographs?
For photo editing, I mainly use Lightroom, but I’ll occasionally use Photoshop, too. For mobile photography, I’ve been using VSCO for years and it is still very reliable and easy to use. All photographers have different editing styles, so there aren’t really any standard rules for editing. But I would say that you need to pay attention to whether the photo will be overexposed or overshadowed.
Also, the ‘dehaze’ and ‘color grading’ functions are worth exploring. They add a nice dreaminess and aura to the photos. I’d suggest trying different tunings and playing around with settings on the same photo to get an idea of which ones work best for you.
"Signs of An Era" Artist Jeremy Cheung - available in art print via Bamboo Scenes
What do you find the most challenging aspect of taking unique, interesting photos when traveling?
Traveling! That is an unfamiliar word now…But based on how I used to travel, I usually don’t set a task just for the sake of taking unique, interesting photos. I believe that once you’re immersed in a new environment with all your senses engaged, the sights and sounds will come together and your camera shutter will begin clicking.
Still, one of the most challenging tasks when traveling is the constraint of time. Some of us—especially Hongkongers and photo lovers—tend to plan a long list of spots to photograph, which takes a lot of time and limits our creativity. For me, I’ve been learning the ‘reduction formula’ in recent years and have tried to slow down and experience the reality of a particular area. When you have enough time to get in sync with your environment, you’re more likely to relax and find unique angles. This applies to daily street photography in Hong Kong, too.
"Jeremy recommends photographers to create enough time to get in sync with your environment, as you’re more likely to relax and find unique angles."
What inspires your photography?
My photography involves building an understanding of a place and space. This includes the people and surrounding structures. As well as paying attention to local and global news, I’ve also recently found that literature and art exhibitions help me settle my mind and broaden my horizons. I also find inspiration by looking through photography books and reading photography-related essays.
Bamboo Scenes Artist Jeremy Cheung, Central Hong Kong
What photographers have influenced your style the most? What do you like about them?
It might sound cliché now, but it was an exhibition of Fan Ho’s 1950s Hong Kong Black & White works that drew me into the fascinating world of photography. The exhibition was held perhaps a decade ago, but it really challenged me to capture the beauty and simplicity of Hong Kong at that time.
In addition, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s notion of ‘decisive moments’ still influences my style of street photography. My Japanese artist friend Yoshitaka Goto's film double exposure work also challenges me to get experimental and think out-of-the-box. Among local photographers, I always like Paul Yeung and Siu Wai-hang’s works as they always create meaning through interesting and intriguing photos.
How is your personality reflected in your work?
As an introverted person who thinks a lot before and after shooting, I think my pictures tend to set an objective distance between the photographer and the elements shot. This allows viewers to feel a sense of space and time within the image. At the same time, I always love to daydream and don’t like to get too bored. Perhaps this is the reason I’m into film and multiple exposure photos, because these unpredictable experiments allow me to unleash my imagination on ordinary places or seemingly mundane things.
"Journey of the Evergreen" by Artist Jeremy Cheung - Central Hong Kong
You shoot both digital and film photography. What do you feel you get from each style of photography?
I mainly use digital photography for my commissioned assignments and daily street photography. But, I prefer to use film photography for conceptual works, such as photo series or experimental art. Overall, these are just two different recording mediums—at the end of the day, you can achieve a similar level of creativity and accuracy in either mode.
The important point is that you have to be able to appreciate and utilize the respective advantages and disadvantages of both styles of photography in order to make photographic art.
I’d also add that mobile photography plays a huge role in my artistic creative process, too. That’s because it’s always the handiest available tool—my phone is always in my pocket.
What does Hong Kong mean to you and your photography?
The meaning of ‘Hong Kong’, like the city’s destiny, is always fluid and subject to the ever-changing political and global tides. As a photographer living in this ‘new normal,’ I feel that I have a responsibility to tell the stories about this place that I call home through my camera.
As well as the obvious aesthetics of the photos, I hope that my photos spark reminiscence—or bring encouragement—to those who once had or still have a connection to Hong Kong. That might be why my collections tend to consist of sentimental and hopeful shots. I believe that whatever the situation, we should always keep up hope.
Bamboo Scenes Artist Jeremy Cheung - Central Hong Kong
What advice would you give to today's young aspiring photographers?
Don’t just blindly follow styles and presets. Start with an original concept and build your own aesthetic. Start by shooting the things that interest you most! Read more books and read more news to develop your worldview and artistic ethos. Don’t worry about likes and followers on social media—that’s just going to turn you into a people pleaser, not a self-confident creator. Just be yourself and believe in yourself.
"Start by shooting the things that interest you most! Read more books and read more news to develop your worldview and artistic ethos"
What are your photography goals for 2021?
2021 has been quite different from 2020! I had three solo photography exhibitions in 2020 but this year, I’m taking a break from hands-on organizing. With more group shows (both online and offline) in 2021, I’ve also started to make dummy photobooks from my various photo series.
I’ve also just opened a new studio with my two partners in Fotan, and I’m looking forward to making more studio photos and hosting mini showcases there. I also want to publish a photo zine by the end of this year.
Why did you choose Bamboo Scenes to showcase your artwork?
It’s a Hong Kong-based curator focusing on diverse photographic perspectives of the city. The chosen artists in their collective have a thorough understanding of the city and tell genuine stories about Hong Kong. This gives me the confidence to freely submit and present my works because I know my works will complement other artists’ art prints to create a complete spectrum of our city.
"Old Ride, New Splash" Artist Jeremy Cheung - Central Hong Kong
What is your favorite photograph from your collection at Bamboo Scenes?
At first, “Journey of the Evergreen” was my favorite! The vintage #120 wooden tram is quite hard to bump into, and it’s the only one in Hong Kong, so I was lucky to be at that curved track in Central when it showed up on a warm and sunny winter afternoon.
Now though, “Old Ride, New Splash” is growing on me, too. I was surprised at people’s appreciation of the photo, both during and after the Bamboo Scenes “Hong Kong Contrasts” showcase in June. This made me look at the picture again and rediscover the beautiful craftsmanship of the Star Ferry deck.
Want to explore Hong Kong from Jeremy Cheung’s perspective? Watch his exclusive artist video for a unique view of the city and check out his Bamboo Scenes photography art print collection!
Bamboo Scenes Photography Artist Jeremy Cheung, Central Hong Kong
Learn more about fellow Bamboo Scenes artist Kelvin Yuen