Hong Kong Living: An Interview With Photographer Wei Leng Tay
Wei Leng Tay is a photographer, photojournalist and visual artist based in Hong Kong and Singapore. Recipient of the prestigious Poynter Fellowship from the Yale School of Art, she has been exhibited in museums and galleries in Turkey, Japan, Singapore, Indonesia, Hong Kong and elsewhere. Her Living in Hong Kong project is a series of intimate portraits of how Hong Kong people live in their own homes. We interviewed her to find out more.
What inspired your Living in Hong Kong series?
I started working on this project because I was wondering about my own life in Hong Kong; work-life balance, relationship dynamics and how this city – in its architecture, in its capitalist tendencies and in the cultural manifestations of behavior and expectations – has shaped or affected the way we live and interact with people closest to us.
You worked on this project between 2005 and 2015. Can you tell us about the evolution of the project during this decade?
When I started working on the project, the photography, in my mind, was more descriptive and outward-looking. There was more of a sense of discovery in trying to understand my sense of belonging and what I was doing with my life interacting with and thinking about the lives of others. As the work progresses, [it] became more introverted and became more of a creation of my inner feelings and thoughts merged with the lives of others. Also, I started the project when I was in my twenties, and the project and its focus evolved with the different stages of my own life.
Tell us about the process of observing and photographing people in the privacy of their own homes. How did you put your subjects at ease?
As with most of my projects, there is a lot of discussion and mutual understanding, and this is paramount in my process.
Did it ever seem overwhelming to you to capture images of such private moments?
How much staging was devoted to these shots?
The participants and I were talking about where we would like the photographs to be taken. At first I used a lot more lighting, but then it got a lot more organic. They would be located in an area and the actual photo taking was very smooth and undirected.
It seems that most of your subjects are from the middle and lower middle classes. Can you tell us about the socio-economic aspect of this project?
The project focused on the wider middle class. I wanted the project to reflect on the strata that I know and come from, and also to a group that is big and that has the potential to move and change society.
It seems that you document human relationships as much as you document urban living conditions. Would you say this is true?
The work for me goes beyond documentation. My intention has never been to document urban living conditions. It was always about relationships. The photos do not aim to convey a specific nature of family relationships, but perhaps to question its complexity and its links with the outside world.
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