Coffin Homes, Subdivided Flats and Partitioned Rooms, a loss of dignity for many in Hong Kong. Less than 50 square feet.

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This is an accurate portrayal of this disgrace for many in the city of Hong Kong. I have been in these units myself in Tai Po and Fanling, Hong Kong.

Hong Kong’s skyrocketing housing prices have afflicted every sector of society. However, while most of us are whining about insufficient space, some of the city’s residents are living in unimaginably appalling and dangerous conditions. Their dwellings may come with different names—coffin homes, subdivided flats and partitioned rooms—but they are all part of the harsh realities faced by the most disadvantaged groups in our city. An advertising agency has teamed up with the Society for Community Organization (SoCO) to offer an unexpected and eye-opening visual presentation of how it feels like to live in such abodes.

“Sojourning as Tempura” was held from December 17-23 at the Cultural Centre. In it, photographers from all over the city captured the plight of people living in cramped and squalid living conditions in Hong Kong. But among the many harrowing photographs on display, the series that captured the claustrophobia of the living spaces was a set of photos taken looking straight down upon the houses by Publicis Hong Kong, a prominent advertising agency. In the collaboration, eight overhead photos were taken in a number of subdivided flats in Sham Shui Po—all of them smaller than 50 square feet. From brainstorming to the final exhibition, it took the team almost a year to complete the photos. All the people involved participated in the project on a voluntary basis.

“A lot of photographers have taken pictures of cage homes, coffin homes and the like. But they adopted a very realistic approach when it came to shooting. We were thinking of ways to make the images more powerful… So we came up with this, so that the whole flat is captured in one photo,” says Kwong Chi-kit, the creative director of Publicis Hong Hong.

Even though Kwong and his team were fully aware of the city’s housing problem, they were taken aback when they visited the flats. “When people look at the pictures now, they are shocked by the visuals. But when we were on site, there was a lingering smell because the kitchens and toilets are connected. We could feel the heat as well. It was summer when we were doing the shoots. The ventilation was very bad in most flats. Of course, there were no air-conditioners. Some might have had a fan, but many didn’t even have windows,” says Kwong.

The team also selected the shooting locations carefully. In the photo collection, subjects of different ages and backgrounds were captured in the imageries: an elderly person rinsing vegetables in a plastic bucket; two young children doing homework on the top bunk of the family’s only bed; a family struggling to have a meal together in the cramped space.

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