After spending countless hours traversing the bustling Hong Kong streets as a passenger in the back of city taxis, Allison Haworth West, a Hong Kong resident for 13 years, concocted the premise for her photography book, Taxi Art. She became fascinated by the diverse and eccentric dashboard displays in each taxi, perceiving them as a small glimpse into the world of the driver. Combining her passion for art and design, she began to capture and record these ubiquitous dashboards with unscripted photographs, documenting her visual journey in her clever photography book, Taxi Art. She explains that, “whether it is a superhero, a cartoon character, a religious icon, a plant, some fresh jasmine or just a line up of multiple phones in stands – many of the dashboards of Hong Kong taxis tell a story. Sometimes carefully curated, other times haphazardly placed, they are part of the driver’s world that they share with their passengers.” The unplanned, spontaneous nature of the photos help to create a genuine connection with, and a deeper understanding for, the taxi drivers who are idiosyncratic to Hong Kong.
Is this your first book? What prompted you to do this?
Yes it is. I was sitting in the back of a HK taxi one day in 2010 and the idea dawned on me. These unique cultural icons need to be celebrated!
How long did it take you to put together?
It took five years from the initial idea, but that was not constant shooting. It was a winding journey of random taxi rides coupled with some deliberate stealth missions to seek out the hidden treasures.
Why do you think taxis are so quintessential to the city?
They are ubiquitous, they never seem to stop moving, their red colour embodies the essence and vibrancy of the city. The majority of people in Hong Kong do not own a car, so taxis are a part of everyday life for everybody. Rich or poor, young or old, everyone has embedded memories of Hong taxis even if they are not cognisant of them. There is a sameness to HK taxis on the outside, but when you enter the inside ‘world’ each driver has created, you are treated to a unique experience that reflects that person and, more holistically, the culture of the city.
Are all the photos taken by you?
Yes – every single one! Some are high resolution and some are shot as best I could while being driven around and trying not to encroach in the driver’s space – but they all tell a story. Some of my favourite subjects have actually ended up quite small in the book because of the difficulty in shooting whilst being thrown around in the back of the taxis!
What defines ‘taxi art’?
The context; Taxi Art is all about the inside of taxis. Like mini installations, the taxi interiors come alive with a myriad of objects, colours, and happenings. Some are deliberate and some are random and accumulated over time by the drivers.
What kind of reaction have you been having to the book concept?
Overwhelming! It is a wonderful thing to watch people’s faces when you tell them. It seems that some people are acutely aware of what they have been looking at whilst riding taxis, while at the same time some have not been aware at all. You can almost see the lights going on in people’s minds and memories when you talk about it – all of a sudden they realise they have it all stored away in their subconscious. It has been wonderful to see how much people like the idea and get a kick out of the concept – clearly I am not the only one who thinks the art of the Hong Kong taxi is inspiring.
What have been your favourite things you've seen in taxis?
I like the figurative pieces with interesting expressions on their faces. There are a lot of Japanese Manga characters that have some amazing expressions. Also, some of the wonderful juxtapositions that occur with religious pieces coupled with prosperity focused feng shui objects and pieces of purely decorative fun. And I always enjoy the smell of fresh jasmine when it appears on the air conditioner outlet of course!
Do you think HK taxis are unique?
Yes, HK is a bustling city, and so are the taxis. Busy, impatient, and full of energy and motion. The interiors are unique to HK because they reflect HK. Kaitlin McPhee
Taxi Art is on sale at GOD (citywide, including PMQ, 35 Aberdeen St, Central) $300; taxiarthk.com.