Art & Photography

Daniel Brackenbury: Murmurs Photo Essay

Daniel Brackenbury documents Hong Kong by night and explains his feelings of alienation in the busy metropolis

In Hong Kong there are several capsule-like villages that sit dotted around the fringes of the city. Some of these belonged to a nomadic community called the Hakka people who migrated to the area several centuries ago. To protect the zones from encroachment, they built large fortified walls around their small towns, closing themselves off from the outside world. Similar segregations and seclusions still exist all over Hong Kong today. For me, the city is a megalopolis of walls and colonies – squares, boxes, cuboids and enclosures. All over are settlements where people exist and get by in blocks upon blocks, windows upon windows of private worlds.

The Hakka people were acquiesced by the local communities but never truly accepted. Instead they remained perpetual wanderers, forever camping in one place. The word Hakka, directly translated from Cantonese, means ‘stranger’ or ‘visitor’. These are words that could easily describe myself.

I lived in Hong Kong for seven months and was always an alien throughout my time there. It soon became clear that I wasn’t the only one: wandering around I would find myself drawn to other aloof citizens and their environments, particularly after dark. During the day the city is a frenetic blur, muddled and confused. However, at night individual habitats are outlined and illuminated. Personal space suddenly grows clear and the solitary corners and quietude within the city become visible.

I’m quite a shy photographer, I don’t like to interrupt things. Instead I stand back with my zoom lens and look in on people’s surroundings from a discreet distance. This allows me to watch life unfold like a film, glimpsing key scenes and plot thresholds. Not dissimilar to a cinema goer, a spectator in the shadows gazing out at the drama projected magically in front of me. I like this anonymous persona because it suits me. As with many people who live there, I never properly belonged in Hong Kong – but I was quite happy to be a guest and roam quietly with the other drifters. Outsiders all, estranged comrades caught in the dazzle.

More info Daniel Brackenbury’s work here