Tilting his lens
Sham Shui Po is a neighbourhood rich in significance both past and present – yet, surprisingly, it’s often neglected in tourist itineraries and city publications. Professor Steve Aishman, photography advisor to the new book Tilting the Lens: Telling the Story of Sham Shui Po, tells Ilene Frankel what makes the area so special…
Mention the Sham Shui Po district outside of the context of cheap market deals and it’s almost certain to be met by a puzzled face or a blank stare. Enter Professor Steve Aishman, along with some dedicated faculty members and students from Savannah College of Art and Design in the district, who are on a mission to give the area the respect it deserves – and unleash its dynamic nature to the public.
There’s a dizzying number of books, pamphlets, guidebooks and photo-books dedicated to Hong Kong which have been saturating the market – yet the Sham Shui Po district has largely been overlooked at the printing presses. Tilting the Lens: Telling the Story of Sham Shui Po lets readers have a peek through the eyes (well, the lenses) of SCAD students and shares a different story than the usual guidebook fluff.
Aishman says the process started somewhat organically. “The students were going out into the neighbourhood and they were coming back with these fantastic stories about how they were interacting with people on the streets or in shops,” he explains. It soon escalated, he says, into a yearlong endeavor that combined students from the disciplines of photography, historical preservation and graphic design. Equipped with cameras and notebooks, they ventured out to uncover the depth of their school’s surroundings and collaborated to mesh together their vision, ultimately producing the finished product: Tilting the Lens.
Students came to the table every day with fresh ideas and enthusiasm, says Aishman. “It was really just my job to help guide that energy in a way that was actually publishable,” he says, sounding somewhat like a ‘proud papa’. “I can’t help but get excited when students use the tools I give them to make something they are truly proud of,” the 36-year-old adds with a smile. SCAD breathes a historic presence in its own right as it is housed in the old North Kowloon Magistracy building.
While most concentrate on associating Sham Shui Po with shopping, Aishman says ‘its real uniqueness lies in the people who live and work there every day’. “There is one interesting element to historic academia – these pictures might appear commonplace, such as people playing chess in the park. It doesn’t necessarily appear to be something worth highlighting across Hong Kong right now. But give this a couple years and all of a sudden this becomes a real testament to the way people lived now.” The juxtaposition of buildings is also worth noting as it is a combination of both ‘historic and modern architecture’.
Whether using the book in an academic capacity or simply as an enriching coffee table read, it’s a compilation of around 200 photos (culled down from a memory drive filled to capacity with images) and corresponding content. In the end, it was ‘homage to the neighbourhood and a big thank you’, says Aishman, highlighting special attention to the residents of Sham Shui Po who ‘graciously welcomed the students into their lives’.
Aishman already uses the book as a teaching tool and hopes it finds an audience and voice outside of SCAD’s walls. “The book has wide ranging appeal. It’s academic, it’s social, it’s about love. It’s about showing that we really love this neighbourhood and it’s allowed the students to express that.”
SCAD is still digesting the accomplishment of Tilting the Lens with no plans at the moment for round number two. But it is hard to imagine that a second installment won’t be on the cards since the benefit for students participating in a professional project such as this is huge. “Having this feather in their cap is a big, big boom,” says Aishman. It certainly is. So we reckon there will be another edition some time in the future. We’re already wondering which neighbourhood might be featured next…
Tilting the Lens: Telling the Story of Sham Shui Po is bilingual in English and Chinese. It is published by SCAD and Design Press, and is priced at $480, available at Bookazine and G.O.D stores in Hong Kong.