Travelogue: Hong Kong – Luis Barrancos
I was visiting Hong Kong again after some years, and was caught by how the city’s landscape had changed during that time. The last time I was there, there was construction work going on near Wan Chai (on Hong Kong Island); and land were being reclaimed between Central and the Convention Center.
There is now a ferris wheel over the horizon on this reclaimed land.
Sunset was fast approaching and ILFORD Pan F+ is not known for its good reciprocity failure characteristics. That said, it’s what I had loaded in my Noon 612 pinhole camera.
It took a bit longer than expected and I wasn’t sure the exposure was right, so in the end I decided to try a double exposure from another vantage point. This was one of the best images from that experience.
The Noon 612 pinhole camera – in case you don’t know – is a handmade, medium format wooden box pinhole camera. As the name suggests, the camera is capable of taking 6×12 photographs, and although this photograph was taken on the 6×9 setting, it is also possible to shoot as 6×6. The focal length is 60mm and the aperture is f/250.
We stayed in Sham Shui Po, in West Kowloon. This is, in my opinion one of the few places where you can still experience the charm of old Hong Kong.
Streets are dotted with neon lights, wanton noodle joints lurk behind stained plastic curtains, stalls with glazed poultry, and strangers sharing tables with strangers in tight spaces.
They are a cauldron of sticky-sweet scents, the noise of night market vendors, incandescent light bulbs and fluorescent lights creating a sweaty vibe.
Narrow alleys and crowded buildings with their plumbing on the outside like overgrown roots help gain valuable space on the inside.
I shot these scenes on Kodak Portra 800 with my Fuji GS645W (Wide 60). Its viewfinder is not the brightest and it has a small rangefinder patch which makes focusing hard, especially at night time, but it’s a neat, small and portable camera with an impressively sharp lens.
There is a slightly cinematic quality to Portra 800 that is lacking in other films. Don’t get me wrong, Ektar 100 is fantastic, and so is Portra 400 – specially in its ability to being pushed to 800, 1600, even 3200EI – but they don’t deviate much from what you see.
Kodak Portra 800 however, is a film with a very strong and marked personality. Let’s hope the formulation doesn’t change because it’s an emulsion with a very discernible signature look; one which was perfect for capturing the ambiance of Kowloon.
We’re still in Sham Shui Po and I am wandering around with the Fuji GS645W in hand, and a small tripod in my backpack. There were definitely more neon the last time I was here. Now you can see LED lights replacing some of those classic tube neon lights.
One moment you’re in the dark, crossing an isolated alley, only to find yourself in the midst of a mass of people in the next. Suddenly you’re back back in the dark, only to be met by a flood of neon lights again.
Shards of broken glass…foot massage parlors…the occasional provocative advertisement.
There is no point in trying to color balance this cacophony of tones and hues. Shoot as is.
When it rains, a veil of contrast and saturation falls over these streets, draining down the plastics. Neon light in puddles everywhere.
Everything acquires a 3D, almost kaleidoscopic-like nature, and it suddenly feels like being inside a strange mix of “Blade Runner” and an anime movie, or within a relocated version of William Gibson’s “Neuromancer”.
Someone passes by pushing a small wheel cart, it’s too late to frame, but suddenly not making the shot is immaterial.
Around Sheung Wan in Cat Street. Every night without fail, this lady brings food and water to the local felines.
Sheung-Wan subway station. Fluorescent lighting dominates, and Portra 800 brings these color casts further towards green.
Another building, another puzzle of blocks. Shot in Tai-Koo, east of Hong Kong.
Sunrise in Tai-Koo, Quarry Bay. A view of the bay from the 36th floor. It was hazy in the morning and an orange glow permeated everything.
The city is still half asleep, and that included me. Sometimes I play with these panorama like diptychs and triptychs.; usually black and white prints on ILFORD MGIV/FB or using Polaroids.
Perhaps one day I’ll print RA4 at home and continue making these puzzles.
Portra 400 has some beautiful tones in the blue hour, and usually that’s when I prefer to use it – before sunrise, or after dusk, but this was an exception.
Below, a Star Ferry waiting for passengers in Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon. We took the Star Ferry later that night and ended up crossing Victoria Harbor back and forth times, enjoying the view of Central, Wan Chai, Tsim Sha Tsui, and the soft breeze in the middle of the harbor.
There’s a constant frenzy of traffic in the bay. Ferries, water taxis, tour boats, tugs and small cargo boats criss-crossing from one side to the other.
Shot on Portra 400 with the Fuji GS645W and cropped to a wide / panorama like format. A cheaper and much lighter alternative to the Fuji GS617, though no match to its frame size. Although there seems to be some form of purism in the film photography community regarding the use of cropping these days, making the shot was always just part of the process, with another creative process taking place in the darkroom.
These days it’s no different.
A final view, shot on my Noon 612 in black and white… It’s the Hong Kong island view of Victoria Harbour, as seen from Tsim Sha Tsui at dusk.
There were lots of inquisitive stares at the Noon 612 – an unassuming rectangular box with two wooden knobs to wind the film. Nothing more and nothing less. Finally someone mustered the courage to ask what it was, and how I controlled the exposure.
A light meter application in the mobile phone to calculate the exposure compensation for the format and the f/250 aperture, although an actual light meter with reflective or spot readings would be handy.
Fuji Neopan Acros 100 has some truly fantastic reciprocity failure characteristics. It requires no exposure changes for exposures of up to 120 seconds, and short amounts of compensation from that point onwards.
For dusk and night time black & white photography, pinhole at least, it’s my favorite, though in all fairness the alternatives all end up requiring exposures of several hours after compensating for format, aperture and reciprocity failure.
Returning to Hong Kong after a few short years and seeing how much has changed makes me wonder, how much will the city have changed by the time I make it back again?
Thanks for reading,
~ Luis Barrancos
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