Chan Wai Kwong was born in Hong Kong in 1976, his father a news photographer and his mother an employee at the casinos in Macau. Dropping out of high school early, he drifted in and out of odd jobs for many years before starting to take photographs as a young man. Over the years, Chan developed—completely self-taught—his distinct high-contrast style shot entirely on film. He began self-publishing his work in 2010, and is known for his hand-bound photo books, each devoted to a particular Hong Kong neighborhood: Sham Shui Po, Yau Ma Tei, Wan Chai, and Admiralty. In Chan’s journal-like photographs, Hong Kong is the key protagonist, depicted as a sprawling metropolis with its famously crowded avenues, winding pathways, and endless high-rises.
Focusing particularly on Kowloon, the photos portray the city’s denizens as at one with their urban environment, poised in corner stores, subway cars, and roadside eateries. Rather than staging motifs, the artist renders himself as a mere documentarian, shooting ephemeral scenes between the city and the subjects, which imparts the images with something personal and diaristic. In his work, there is particular attention to spaces of commerce and consumption, advertising, waste, and random passersby caught in fleeting moments. This works to produce a romantic myth of the forever unknowable metropolis of Hong Kong—akin to much cyberpunk cinema and anime, which despite being made in Japan or the West often used the city as a go-to urban setting.