Anyone who lived in Kowloon City before 1998 will remember the sound of planes roaring what felt like inches above their buildings. Thanks to photographers like Henry Chung, this noisy, quirky Hong Kong memory is immortalised in vivid images.
The award-winning cinematographer has worked with key figures in the local film industry, from Ann Hui On-wah to Andy Lau Tak-wah. An expert in lighting and camera work, Chung has been making three-dimensional photographs since 1993.
When Young Post chatted to Chung at his exhibition at LCX in Harbour City, Tsim Sha Tsui, he was showing off a rather unusual camera with two lenses side by side.
“It took me a long time to save up for this gem – it cost me HK$100,000 altogether,” he says.
“I had to wait 18 months for it as it was handmade,” he recalls. “Jackie Chan tried to buy it from me ... of course I turned him down, but I took a photo of him.”
3D cameras, or stereo cameras, often have two lenses to create one image. You click the shutter once and get two slightly different photos, one more to the left and the other more to the right, to simulate human binocular vision and create 3D images.
Chung’s journey into 3D photography began in 1993 when he went to Japan. “That trip had a massive impact on me,” he says. As soon as he landed in Japan, a friend took him to see a collection of 3D travel photos. He was immediately impressed.
During the same trip, he found a 3D camera at a shop in Tokyo. Before he got a chance to get his wallet out, his friend stopped him and told him he had a spare one. That was Chung’s first of many 3D cameras – he now owns more than he can estimate.
“3D photographs provide a spatial concept that traditional 2D photos fail to achieve,” says Chung, and 3D has since become his way to document the world.
His first batch of 3D photos, taken in Inner Mongolia, were showed to a Japanese director. “The director was putting together a textbook on 3D photography, he spoke highly of my photos and used some in his book.” For Chung, for whom the door to 3D photography has just opened, it was greatly encouraging.
Shooting in 3D is similar to standard photography, in that it involves considering factors like lighting and composition. But to make the most of the 3D “pop-out” effect, Chung’s cinematographic expertise comes in to play.
“Part of being a good cinematographer is being able to take good tracking shots,” he said, referring to shots that are filmed with the camera moving on a rail. “You need to look out for a good starting point as well as a good end point.”
With his 3D camera, Chung looks for frames that suit both the left eye and the right eye – both lenses of the camera in the same time.
Chung held his first 3D photo exhibition back in 1996 titled A Five-Leg Tour. “I have two legs, but I’m always with my tripod which has three legs,” he explains.
Five legs have turned into eight as the age of digital hits us. Chung now travels with his eight legs - three legs for a 3D film camera and three for a 3D digital camera.
The time may have changed from film to digital, but his passion for 3D has never faded. .
“I’m a naughty boy who likes a good challenge,” says the photographer who is in his 60s. “Shooting in 3D is just taking two images from different angles, but there are lots of variables that affect the final work. When shooting, you can adjust the distance between the lenses to control the depth of the subject; when editing, you can control whether something appears in the foreground or background of the image ... it provides me with endless fun.”
Shooting in 3D is tricky in general, but shooting Kowloon in the ’90s was a particularly tough challenge.
When Kai Tak Airport was still in use, people who lived in Kowloon had to put up with the disturbance associated with living so close to the runway. Gleaming jets swooping metres above shabby buildings is a common theme in Chung’s photographs.
In Chung’s Retro Kowloon exhibition, many of the photos feature planes flying over the city. Aircraft is a challenging subject to photograph because timing has to be spot on. If you delay for a tenth of a second, the opportunity could be lost. “I enjoy it not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard,” said Chung, referencing to JF Kennedy’s moon landing speech.
Facing challenges has paid off. Nearly 20 years after Kai Tak closed, Chung’s collection of 3D photos are like miniature scenes that preserve the retro Kowloon and transport gallery visitors back in time.
Chung’s exhibition will run until June 30.