The latest photography project by Derek Man, Close to Home, investigates the ever-growing housing crisis in Hong Kong.
At once a basic human need and private-state imperative, the housing issue is one that affects people in Hong Kong and the world over. Having lived in the UK for 12 years, the work can be viewed from the perspective of an expatriate returning to his homeland to record how rapidly Hong Kong is changing.
From a family of four living in one room, to middle aged men residing in ‘coffin homes’ no bigger than a closet, the lack of affordable housing is forcing Hong Kong’s residents to live in substandard environments. While the government estimates some 200,000 people live in these ‘coffin homes’; research by Society for Community Organisation (SoCO) suggests the number could be much higher.
Alongside the underpriviliged, the work also considers the other extreme end of the spectrum, as well as what lies in-between. By showing the up-and-coming private estates, the oldest and newest social housing, estate agents congregating in shopping malls desperately selling up land, showrooms displaying the perfect flat, and the ultra wealthy homes, the project weaves together a vision of a social future that is recognisable globally.
Derek explains: "I’ve always had a vague idea of the disparity in living standards in Hong Kong however, I did not know the full extent until I met SoCO and saw it first hand. Families of four sharing one room and grown men living in what is practically a cupboard surrounded by everything they own.
"I’d heard stories from my father and his brother about growing up in a tiny flat when they were kids, practically a shed, but seeing that they still exist 40 years later is shocking. What's even more striking is that these homes aren't out in the suburbs or edges of the town, they are in huge areas of wealth and commerce, for example by Time Square opposite the Tiffany's shop or up the winding staircases of Mong Kok, next to Langham Place.
"One lesson I've really taken away from this project is that it is not just about Hong Kong - a lack of safe, reasonably priced housing is a global issue that is not exclusive to this city. I hope this work will hold up a mirror to other places, encouraging discourse on potential solutions."
The project was commissioned by Open Eye Gallery as part of the Culture Shifts: Global exhibition, to coincide with Look/17 Liverpool International Photography Festival this month.