My Surreal Life in Hong Kong

SurrealHK by Tommy Fung




早前Tommy與13 New Street Gallery合作的首個個人作品展中,展出了他精心挑選的相片,還有特別為展覽創作的立體作品。「我選了比較輕鬆、讓人發笑的作品於展覽中,像SurrealHK的instagram般,甚麼類型的都有,當中有很多關於多交通工具的相片,這是因為我對香港的交通工具情有獨鍾。不過,今次的展覽最想表達的是香港的房屋問題,也是社會上最大和最切迫的問題。例如是《Infinity Choi Hung Estate (2018)》和《Infinity Wah Fu Estate(2019)》,以無限伸展的方式表達密密麻麻的房屋和狹小的生活空間,帶來震撼的視覺效果。」立體的相片表現出層層遞進的壓迫感,給人一種喘不過氣的感覺。「彩虹村是我最喜歡的作品,因為它本來是一個『打卡位』,而我採用了一種壓迫感的方式演繹,視覺上十分豐富、搶眼。相片背後想說的是香港的劏房問題,雖然大廈的外表色彩繽紛、予人快樂的感覺,但現實是香港的劏房愈劏愈小,屋裡面會不會是很灰暗呢?居住在裡面的人仍然是快樂嗎?」Tommy更把彩虹邨變成立體的俄羅斯方塊遊戲,以輕鬆、幽默的方式喚醒我們對社會問題的關注。


When I came across Tommy Fung’s SurrealHK series, I couldn’t help but think of Hayao Miyazaki’s animated work. The two works are obviously different in style, but they both juggle the elements of realism and imagination. Whether it’s Miyazaki’s Totoro (a large furry creature that appears in one of his films) or Tommy’s giant panda on the Victoria Harbour, these creatures, as well as the other works by the two, open the door to infinite imagination. “I was born in Hong Kong but migrated to Venezuela at the age of nine. Four years ago, I decided to move back to Hong Kong because of the social unrest and economic crisis in Venezuela. When I first came back, I had no idea what I could do, so I spent a lot of time looking at the work of local photographers trying to figure out where and what they shot. Eventually, I noticed that photo manipulation as an art form was still catching on in Hong Kong. It was frowned upon because of its association with unethical photo retouching and cyberbullying. So I started to create the SurrealHK series. I wanted to express my views on the city via manipulated photos.” After spending years in Venezuela, Tommy laughed at how he has always looked at Hong Kong from the perspective of a tourist. “In the past, I’d come back to Hong Kong to visit my relatives. Every time I was in town, I could feel that the city was rapidly developing and prospering. Everything was new and exciting which made me feel like a tourist. It wasn’t until I moved back to Hong Kong that I gradually understood the city and began to have that feeling of actually living here.”

From Tommy’s work, we can see both the familiar and unfamiliar sides of Hong Kong from the Instagram hotspot Choi Hung Estate, to the clamorous Sham Shui Po neighbourhood, the iconic Victoria Harbour, and more. “I went all over Hong Kong to take photos, and I picked the places that I am particularly fond of as the subjects for shooting. For example, I’ve picked Sham Shui Po as it is a very down-to-earth and densely-populated neighbourhood where you can observe the everyday life of the locals. I modified a picture of Sham Shui Po to resemble the scene setting in the movie Inception. I’ve even edited the sky and filled it up with densely-packed buildings.” I was amazed when I first saw Tommy’s work on social media for the fact that even the shadows in the modified pictures are so realistic. Such a surreal and exaggerated way of expression not only makes a bold impression to the audience, it is also intriguing and thought-provoking. “In today’s world, people browse through their phones at a very high speed. If something fails to catch their attention at the first glance, it will soon be gone and forgotten. Therefore, I put it as the first priority to make my work very eye-catching. When people feel interested, they will start thinking about what’s real and what’s not, and when they finally look at the text, they will understand the true meaning behind the photos.” Tommy joked that sometimes even he himself is amazed by how realistic the retouched photos look, and if his audiences feel the same, he’d be very happy. “My creative inspiration comes from everywhere; sometimes from the movies I like, sometimes from current social issues. I think that my creative work has to be connected to where I literally am. They cannot be disconnected from reality, nor that they should depict something that no one can understand. For example, at the beginning of the pandemic, I created a piece where huge crowds of people fight for masks. It actually reflects the chaotic and desperate situation in Hong Kong at that time.”

Looking at the meticulously retouched photos, I wonder how much time was spent on post-production. “In fact, the time spent on shooting and retouching the photos is the same. Shooting is very important indeed. If the shot is a bad one, no matter how hard I try in modification at the post-production stage, it still won’t work. The output just wouldn’t look realistic. Therefore, I am very particular about lighting and angle. I’d only modify a picture that I am satisfied with. When I feel inspired, I’d think about where I can shoot. If not, I’d just wander around and take random pictures, which I’ll experiment with.” Tommy said that when he works on an image, he would maximize the picture on screen so he can see every detail clearly. “I’ve decided to run a real exhibition because I want the public to see the details of my photos. Compared to viewing these images on a screen, the physical printouts are way more inspiring and powerful.”

In his first solo exhibition at the 13 New Street Gallery, Tommy has showcased a series of carefully selected photos as well as three-dimensional works specially created for the exhibition. “Similar to my SurrealHK Instagram account where a wide range of work is showcased, the exhibition also displayed a variety of work and I’ve selected some images which are more relaxing and fun. Among them are photos of different modes of transportation because I am particularly fond of Hong Kong transportation. What I really want to express via this exhibition is the housing problem in Hong Kong. It is the biggest and most pressing problem in Hong Kong society. For example, both ‘Infinity Choi Hung Estate’ (2018) and ‘Infinity Wah Fu Estate’ (2019) portray the densely-packed housing in Hong Kong. These visually shocking images give a hint as to how the locals survive in the very limited living space.” The images create the visual illusion of a three-dimensional scene. They radiate a tremendous sense of oppression, and are simply breath-taking. “The image of Choi Hung Estate is my most favourite piece. Choi Hung estate is an Instagram hotspot which is visually vibrant and eye-catching. Yet I chose to present it with a sense of oppression for it is a genuine reflection of the housing problem in Hong Kong. Although the exterior of the building is colorful and cheerful, the reality is that the living spaces within are tiny and restricted. I wonder whether it’s much darker inside the apartments? Are people living there happy?” Through Tommy’s magical transformation, the Choi Hung Estate has turned into the tiles in a game of Tetris. Most importantly, it draws our attention to pressing social issues in a relaxed and humorous way.

When people feel accustomed to their surroundings, they often lose their ability to explore the various possibilities in their city. “Hong Kong is an interesting place for me. Everything makes me feel fresh and curious. Perhaps for the people who live here, everything is nothing but ordinary. But from my perspective, Hong Kong is a beautiful and interesting city. An upside down Mongkok, a tram cruising in snow-filled Sheung Wan, and Whampoa turns into a water park… Hong Kong is a city with infinite imagination and surrealness.” The mysterious world is full of unknowns. With imagination, infinite possibilities come along. I am still hoping that one day I will bump into the sleeping totoro in a tree hole.