Changing Places Changing Faces
Recently in the news I have seen a whole bunch of clever time lapse videos and photographs where children have been shown ageing years in just a couple of minutes. I have also seen a few of the same videos but done with pregnancy. At a tangent Richard Linklater seems to be doing the same thing on a more epic scale.
There is no doubt that these videos are always captivating. It is remarkable to see human change so quickly, and also to have it documented for posterity.
Living in a city like Hong Kong it is also really important to document the mundane urban environment as it changes so fast. In the movie Smoke Harvey Keitel’s character, Auggie Wren, takes a photo of his tobacco shop from the same street corner every single day. He has photo albums full of what at first appears to be the very same photo. He explains to William Hurt’s character,Paul Benjamin, that actually there is subtle difference in each one. Some people appear walking on the street in the background of the photos. Over the course of many years the photos show them ageing, or routines changing. For Auggie these photo albums are a visual diary. Reminders of the uneventful and mundane changes that eventually make up the sum of our lives.
I include a photo above of a pathway in Happy Valley. This picture is not remarkable, but for the friend that took it, and myself, it holds the key to some of the everyday that we lived for a number of years. Historically the path is of interest as the green material that is visible was actually a soft sponge like flooring. It has since been removed. Many many years ago the horses for the Happy Valley races were kept on race day at the stables at the top of Shan Kwong Rd and were walked down to the racetrack via this path. The green cushioned path served to deaden the loud noise of the group of horses as they made their journey. As the Happy Valley stadium now houses its own stables this path became obsolete and has now been replaced with brick work with a racehorse pattern. I shall take a photo and post it at some point.
This photo is also significant because during the 8 years in which I lived in Happy Valley I would see this old man selling his fruit on a daily basis. Over the years I saw his health deteriorate. I remember he sold off his actual fruit stall. Then he took to using this cart and occupied the green path for a year or more. His son would come and help him about. I remember seeing his son once in Chai Wan and he explained to me that Happy Valley was just where he went to look after his father. His father was tied to Happy Valley in terms of trade, but also lived in Chai Wan I believe. Eventually I saw the son pushing the old man around in a wheelchair. Finally he had stopped working. A few months later I realised I hadn’t seen either of them and I realised that the old man had finally died.
Like the green path, part of the fabric of my everyday life, he had vanished. It is a theme dear to Hong Konger’s and one the Abbas articulates beautifully. With all the complexity of the city, sometimes we don’t quite realise what we are seeing until it has finally gone. Places have a humanity because of how we interact with them and the people that occupy them.
I am going to be spending sometime taking photos of some boring and mundane stuff over the next couple of weeks.
A big thanks to Lyn who brought the path and the old man back to life for me through this photo.